Gangs remain concern for law enforcement

Black on Black Crime Task Force addresses the issue, again

Law enforcement officers from the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office participated in a panel discussion on gangs. They were, from left, GPD Officer Mose Rochelle, Reichert House director John Alexander, GPD Lt. Rob Koehler and Deputy Christopher Weitzel, GPD Officer Jesus Rivera, Deputy Greg Guzman, and GPD Officer Tristan Grunder.

AIDA MALLARD/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 2:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 2:22 p.m.

Gang violence is escalating in Gainesville.

That was the message delivered by law enforcement officers from the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, who discussed the issue during the November meeting of the Black on Black Crime Task Force.

The meeting, which was attended by about 75 residents, was held last Wednesday at the Kirby Smith Center.

Greg Guzman, gang detective at the Sheriff's Office, called for GPD and ASO to combine their efforts to suppress gang activity. "We have two agencies that don't know what the other one is doing," Guzman said. "We keep reinventing the wheel."

Jesus Rivera, head of gang intervention at GPD, said gang violence is escalating, with gang members using rocks, bottles and guns. Gang activity in east Gainesville in neighborhoods such as Duval, Lincoln Estates, Sugarhill and Village and Forest Green apartments is not a specific area because the kids are teaming up and coming from other areas in the county. "It's about numbers," Rivera said.

GPD officer Mose Rochelle, coordinator of Gang Resistance Education and Training, said gangs are recruiting members in elementary schools.

"We're trying to reach these kids while they're in school and trying to offer them other options," Rochelle said. "Simply arresting them, it's not working."

John Alexander, executive director of the Reichert House Youth Academy, said a 14 year-old student seen doing a gang handshake, said children and teens are joining gangs for protection and getting pressure from others their age.

Darry Lloyd, a task force member and spokesman for the State Attorneys Office who served as moderator of the meeting, asked what the community can do to help law enforcement suppress criminal activity. "As a community, you're 50 percent responsible," said Lloyd, adding that law enforcement makes up the other half.

"How can the community help suppress these activities?" asked Lloyd.

Rochelle said Bold Overt Leadership Distinction, or BOLD, for males ages 18-24, has a re-entry program to assist those who are coming out of jail with no place to go. "We're trying to reach these young men," Rochelle said. "These young men don't have a basis of how to have a normal life. Some don't have basic life skills. A lot of these don't have a choice."

Alexander said there is a need for community involvement to help in the area of mentorship and to empower mothers of gang members so their children can see the impact gang activity has on a family.

Guzman said some of the children in gangs are doing what they want to do. He said the community can assist by reporting criminal activity and providing a description of the children when they see something happening.

"I think parents need to be more accountable," Guzman said.

During a question-and-answer segment, law enforcement responded to questions from residents wanting to know why children are fighting and who to call when they see them loitering during school hours.

The panelists said juvenile gangs are not well-organized enterprises, but kids being kids who are now ganging together and don't know why they're fighting. The panelists said residents should not approach those who are seen loitering, but to call 352-955-1818, which is the phone number for the Alachua County Combined Communications Center.

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