The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the Florida Gang Investigators Association and other state agencies to conduct a symposium about gang activity in the Gainesville/Alachua County area.
The purpose of the symposium, said Deputy Greg Guzman, is to train officers in identifying, documenting and dealing with gang members.
“The purpose of documenting them into a statewide system or a national system means that they don’t get to start over when they go to the next community over from ours,” Guzman said.
According to the sheriff’s office, there are at least a dozen gangs in Alachua County.
“We have a gang problem in the U.S.; it’s part of our culture,” said Norm Miller, training director for the Florida Gang Investigators Association. “We need to address it like we would address any other problem.”
Trainees at the symposium learned the colors and hand signs as well as the graffiti marks associated with each gang so they can keep an eye out for members even during routine traffic stops.
The area known as the “Mike Zone,” located off 20th Avenue and SW 61st Street, is a hotbed of gang activity, including graffiti that marks the gang territory.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said between 18 of 23 percent of calls related to gang activity come from this area.
Parents worried that their children will get involved with gang activity should pay attention to changes in characteristics, Guzman said.
“Some children are very overt with it: they don’t want clothes unless they’re all red or all black or they’ve got neatly folded bandanas,” he said.
Adolescents who are involved with gangs may also be forced to complete initiation tasks such as harming a rival gang member or committing a robbery.
“They will feel the need to validate themselves and prove themselves like the big guys do,” Guzman said.
The best way for people to protect themselves from gang-related crimes, Miller said, is awareness.
“Be cautious of your surroundings and individuals. It’s not a safe world out there anymore. There are people who want to do us harm,” he said.
Michelle Plitnikas wrote this story online.