ALBANY, Ga. — In a role reversal, the Gang Task Force and Violence Prevention meeting involved members hearing from community leaders’ regarding work of the Albany Police Department Gang Unit.
Usually the once-a-month meetings are used to explain the nature of gangs, gang culture or any other gang-related information to the interested public and community leaders.
“We are doing a sort of role reversal this month,” said police Deputy Chief Nathaniel Clark. “We’ve asked people to let us know what they’ve seen and how we are doing.”
More than one speaker found experiences with the Gang Unit eye-opening, beneficial and important to their neighborhoods. All hoped for even more involvement by the unit in the future.
Sylvia Hart, interim director of the Friendship Care Learning Center, has contact with children from the age of 4 1/2 to 14 years old.
“The gang task force came to our center and talked about bullying and gang violence,” Hart said. “Children 4 1/2 years old are starting to think of gangs. Older children are being recruited. Because of the gang task force we have become more aware of what to look for as signs of gangs.”
Having officers talk to the children about gangs and alternatives gave the children the impetus to talk to their teachers at the center, Hart said.
“They are speaking up ore about gangs and recruitment by gangs,” Harts said. “It makes a difference knowing that it starts at an early age. Without the gang task force talk, the children might not have come and talked to us.”
Eddie Lopez, said he saw improvements in his neighborhood and credited the Gang Unit’s attitude toward youngsters.
“Gangs are one of the biggest problems we face today,” Lopez said. “From last July to February I saw a change.”
Lopez discussed a situation in which he saw an officer approach a group of about eight young men standing around at Slappey Boulevard and Gordon Avenue.
“The cop introduced himself. He shook hands and introduced himself and started talking to the kids,” Lopez said. “He explained that when they gather together people think that trouble is going to come. He was not threatening. He took the time to talk to the kids. He did not put them on the defensive. The kids were drawn in.”
Pastor Gary Sanders of Mt. Olive Baptist Church. said when the Gang Unit formed some felt the police had to show their authority on the streets that gangs thought they owned.
“Now it is time for the healing,” Sanders said. “We need to let them (the youth) know we are here for you.”
The Gang Task Force meetings are held in room 120 the Government Center, 222 Pine Ave., at noon the fourth Thursday of the month except December.