What are the signs that a child is involved in a gang? What is gang activity?
These and similar questions will be answered on March 11 during a community meeting in the auditorium at Sims Jr. High School. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and the public - particularly parents and those who work with youth - are invited. The facilitator will be Vincent O. Goggins, gang investigator with the Richland County Sheriff's Department. Goggins is responsible for investigating gang-related crimes, maintains data on known gang members, provides gang intelligence to other divisions of the sheriff's department and provides aggressive criminal enforcement in high crime areas of Richland County.
A Clinton native, he is a graduate of South Carolina State University, where he earned a bachelor of science in criminal justice. He served eight years in the Army Reserves and has been in law enforcement since 1998. He has served as patrol deputy, community service officer, school resource officer and is the president of the South Carolina Association of School Resource Officers.
The seminar is sponsored by the Corinth Baptist Church, Union County Schools, the Union Public Safety Department and the Union County Sheriff's Office.
Chief Sam White of the public safety department said the meeting is designed to be proactive since Union County has had no gang-related crimes and gangs aren't thought to exist here.
“It's an informational meeting to give parents an idea of what gangs are, how they operate and how they could affect the community and their children,” he said. “We have invited a number of community leaders to be there, if somebody had a question.”
White pointed out that gang activity tends to be more prominent in big city areas, but according to state and national news reports, also is filtering into smaller towns. Two shootings recently in Spartanburg County were thought to be gang-related.
“Everywhere you look it seems to be a growing problem,” he said. “We want to offer information to parents so we can hopefully prevent this type of activity in Union.”
Brochures about the meeting will be sent home to several grade levels of Union County School students and parents of students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades will receive information in the mail about the seminar.
White said preventing gang activity takes more than just law enforcement involvement.
“It takes the whole community getting involved in situations like this,” he said. “This was Rev. (J.A.) Calhoun's idea, the pastor of Corinth Baptist Church, and we are thrilled people outside law enforcement are interested in this potential problem. It is not just a law enforcement problem. When a child gets into trouble it affects his family, the criminal justice system, the school system and the churches. It affects the whole community and it is an issue people need to be well-informed about.”
Calhoun said others probably have the same idea he did about preventing gang activity before it happens.
“We don't want to say we have gangs in Union, we want to be proactive before any get started,” he said. “We want to bring parents and others in to provide information. We want to make sure people have their eyes and minds open that the possibility of gangs exists in Union.”
Calhoun said he hopes more meetings can be held in the future to cover parental responsibility issues like dating, violence in relationships and other subjects. Corinth Baptist also would like to be involved in the establishment of Big Brother and Big Sister organizations and Boys and Girls Clubs.
Sheriff Howard Wells said the seminar presents the opportunity for law enforcement, the churches, the schools and the community to come together to listen and learn the most current information about gang legislation, including changes in the law made in 2007.
“It's a chance to learn how gang activity affects other communities and how we must be vigilant to not have it here,” he said.
Dr. David Eubanks, interim superintendent of Union County Schools, said he thinks the seminar is a good idea.
“Anything that is a potential community concern, a potential community problem, if we have the opportunity to be part of the solution, we need to take that opportunity,” he said. “I commend the Union Public Safety Department, the Union County Sheriff's Office and Corinth Baptist Church for co-sponsoring this meeting. I think it's an opportunity to inform parents and other interested citizens, an opportunity to eliminate gang activity that may exist or may potentially exist and help everyone to understand why gangs flourish in certain areas.”
Channel 14, the Union Connection, will film the seminar for future broadcast for those who were unable to attend.
(Anyone wanting more information on the gang seminar may contact Chief Sam White at the Union Public Safety Department, 429-1713, extension 21.)