The Lebanon Police Department took over the the sanctuary in the Journey Church Tuesday evening to give locals a chance to get current on the subject of gangs.
The free workshop explored what defines a gang, the different types of gangs, information about local gangs, the structure of gangs, why youth join gangs, early indicators of gang involvement for parents to be aware of and much more.
LPD Lt. Koy Lafferty, who works on task forces with the Federal Bureau of Investigation including the recent Vice Lords case locally, gave a presentation about gangs, the levels of involvement and the signs associated with them — including photos of gang tattoos police have noted on local gang members.
"The Lebanon Police Department has made a concentrated effort to address gangs and gang crimes," he said.
He noted that the legal definition of a gang is two or more people who individually or collectively engage in criminal activity and that the current legal definition is loose enough for law enforcement to use it to police all the many variations and levels of gang involvement.
Lafferty said that research has found that smaller cities and rural counties, like Lebanon and Wilson County, whose gang problems are relatively more recent, are more likely to report juvenile gang members. Keeping local children away from gangs by keeping parents and teachers up to date on how to recognize gang involvement is one of the goals of the workshop.
Rep. Mark Pody was in attendance as well as other people who are curious or concerned about gangs. Terry Biebell came to the forum because she has experience dealing with gangs in her former job with the Chicago Police Department.
"I don't like gangs - they're nasty, cruel, disrespectful and they don't value life," she said.
Lafferty said that gangs are basically, behind the rhetoric, money making organizations and are organized as such.
He estimated that Lebanon has about 300 gang members at various levels of involvement and that about "90 percent" of those people are adults.
Pody asked if people grow out of gangs.
"Typically," Lafferty said. "In the Vice Lords they can retire at age 35, in the Cripps it's 30 before they can receive an 'honorable discharge' so to speak."
Pody also asked if gangs in Wilson County are organized and know what they are doing or are they just "thugs."
"Both, in some there are links all the way from Lebanon to Chicago. On the other hand, certain groups are just not organized at all," Lafferty said.
He noted that authorities have noticed gang crimes linked to social networking sites and he showed a video taken from YouTube of a man in Upton Heights demonstrating a complicated series of hand signals related to gangs, so-called "stacking."
Most surprisingly, Lafferty said that most gangs in the country fall under one of two umbrella organizations - the Folk Nation or the People Nation. The Folk include the Gangster Disciples and Cripps and use symbols that involve the number six. The People include the Vice Lords and the Bloods and use the number five to identify themselves.
"Symbolism is really important to these gangs," Lafferty said.
He also said that gang involvement is glorified on television, in movies, video games and in music and literature. Lafferty said that on the website TheHoodUp.com, which he described as a social networking site for gangs, a person can find just about any gang in the country.
Gang members are also identified by the clothes they wear with everyday items being used as gang symbols. Lafferty used the example of the Vice Lords using Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers items because they are their colors - black and gold.
He added that young people join gangs for a variety of reasons including recognition and status, protection, because they are intimidated into joining, for their self-esteem and for love and respect.
Lafferty also noted the early indicators a person may be, or may be considering being, a gang member. He said poor academic achievement, truancy, a lack of hobbies and frequent contact with police could be signs of trouble parents should be on the lookout for. He added that movies, television and rap and sports stars that glamorize gang involvement are factors in leading kids astray.
He said there are five levels of gang involvement. First, is the "fantasy" level when a potential gang member is just curious about gangs after seeing them in the media. Second, is the "at risk" level someone knows gang members but is not yet involved. Third, are the "Wanna Be, Gonna Be" kids who like to hang around gang members. Fourth, are the actual gang members and fifth, are the "hard core" gang members who are "totally committed to a gang. They live and breath being a gang member."
"In Wilson County and Lebanon we have Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Cripps and Bloods," Lafferty said, adding that a lot of gang violence is gang on gang violence.
"When cops see a home invasion involving suspected gang members, they know it's gang related," he said. "They plan the robberies based on the dealer's assets - drugs and money."
Lafferty also noted that gang affiliations in places like Lebanon can be shifting and that alliances between groups are based on profit motive.
"They will work together, because the color that matters is green," he said.
After asking some probing questions, Pody had to leave the forum.
"This has been very, very informative," he told Lafferty.
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 444-3952, ext. 45 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org