FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum this week met with community leaders to discuss ways of stemming the rise of gang activity in South Florida.
The issue came into focus after last fall’s “Dunkin Donuts” case in which two people were randomly shot to death during crime sprees in Lauderhill, Delray Beach and Tamarac. After the arrests of four men in connection with the crime sprees, the suspects’ affiliation with the Crips gang came to light.
Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley and representatives from the Miami-Dade Police Department joined McCollum in announcing that they are joining efforts to combat gang activity across the region.
Lamberti said gang members do not recognize jurisdictional and geographic boundaries, and that – in order to be effective – law enforcement must reach across those lines, also.
In October 2007, McCollum announced a collaborative effort to develop a Statewide Gang Reduction Strategy.
In conjunction with that initiative, an executive group comprising heads of all state agencies with responsibility for law enforcement, children and state law enforcement associations came together, according to the safeflorida.net Web site.
“We worked on the plan, took it to the Legislature and came up with a steering group,” McCollum said Monday, March 23 at the Dr. Harry “Hackie’’ Reitman unit of the Broward County Boys and Girls Club’s headquarters at 3025 W. Broward Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale.
In an effort to stop gang growth in South Florida, McCollum has also created a Coordinating Council to address the lifecycle of gang membership, from recruitment to active membership, incarceration and release.
“Typically, gangs recruit their member from small areas, like this one,” he said. “So we need programs to fill in what’s missing.”
McCollum also said the business community must help stop gang activity.
“There needs to be a plan, even job training. We can help pay for it,’’ he said. “We know we cannot rehabilitate everyone, but we do know that every social ill in our communities revolves around gang problems.”
Gangs are not only in the black or Hispanic communities, McCollum said. “Everyone thinks that, but the truth is that the numbers are evenly broken down.”
The percentages of gang members are one-third black, one-third Hispanic, and one-third white.
The rates of recidivism in South Florida are one-third in three years, 50 percent in five years and 60 percent in 10 years.
Female gang members are more violent, said Emery Gainey, director of law enforcement relations for the Attorney General’s Office. “It’s how their levels of aggression and violence are escalating that needs to be addressed. Somehow, they feel the need to prove that they are tougher than men.”
Emery also said that some communities deny the fact that gangs are a problem.
“It needs to be acknowledged and we need to deal with the problem as it manifests,’’ he said. “It’s not just a law-enforcement problem, it’s a community problem. Criminal justice alone cannot solve it.”
In January, Sheriff Lamberti was named chairman of the Region 7 Gang Reduction Task Force.
Region 7 comprises Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties.
Lamberti said that his office has, in Broward County alone, identified 80 gangs with a membership of about one thousand. In 2008, he said, 227 new members were identified.
“They [gang members] go where the opportunities are,” he said. “Some are national and operate out of South Florida.”
Lamberti also explained that when gang members become too well known in a particular area, “they simply move where no one knows them. That’s their strategy.”
He added that the troubled behaviors leading to a young person’s decision to join a gang begin long before he or she is arrested. Lamberti cited the leading factors as a child having no role model, a weak family structure, no affiliation to a church and low performance in school.
“It’s mostly when they drop out that they are recruited, so we need to put our efforts on the front end,” he added. “That’s how to do it.”
Adderley, Fort Lauderdale’s police chief, described gang members as being “leaders or followers. It’s the same revolving door; the followers are influenced by the leaders. When you get one in [to the police department] you think, ‘This is a good kid, they just need guidance, an opportunity.’ ”
Adderley also said the Fort Lauderdale Police Department supports Lamberti’s program.
Germaine Smith-Baugh, the Urban League of Broward County’s president and CEO, said the Urban League, statewide, has been a partner for 20 years with the state Attorney General’s office, in efforts to provide preventive and intervention services to the community.
“We have youth development programs in several schools and churches,” Smith-Baugh said, adding that there is “a role for us, as individuals, within the community to play.”
She also said that the easy answer to resolving the gang issue is “start at home. Wherever there is a gap, someone has to fill it. And it has to be a parent, school, faith group or an organization to do it.”
For more information on building a strategy to reduce gangs in Florida, visit www.safeflorida.net/safestreets
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff: Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum