Gang activity threatens smaller towns

Monday, June 9th 2008, 7:06 pm
By: News 9

By Charles Bassett, NEWS 9

Law enforcement agencies from around the state are in Oklahoma City all week to deal with the growing threat of gang violence.

It's a threat even small rural areas are now facing. Authorities say gangs are moving into these smaller communities for a variety of reasons, but mainly members know the resources aren't always there to fight them and they can operate at will.

In February 2006 a Ft. Sill soldier was robbed by four people. When he tried to escape he was shot and killed. At least two of his attackers were known gang members.

Gang violence is something Lawton police have been trying to get a handle on for several years.

"A lot of these gang members spread because it's just business," Timothy Poff with the Lawton Police Department said. "It's just like opening a shop in a different city and we share a lot of those same problems."

The city is even dealing with gang activity spilling over from the nearby military post.

"We do definitely see that as a problem with the active duty soldiers sometimes being gang members themselves," Poff said.

Lawton is one of several local governments in Oklahoma taking part in the Oklahoma Gang Investigators Conference. The goal is to share information about gangs and strategies for reducing gang violence.

"Gang related homicides are down, as a percentage, are down significantly," U.S. Attorney John Richter said. "Drive-by shootings are down significantly. That, however, doesn't mean that the gang members aren't there."

Altus, Shawnee and Enid are all dealing with gangs. Even Poteau in far southeastern Oklahoma now has what it calls "homegrown" gang activity.

"Basically they're stealing materials in our area, taking it to the Norman area and selling it for drugs which they are coming back and selling in the high schools," Rob Seale with the Poteau Police Department said.

So far, the gang activity hasn't been violent, but police are concerned that's the next step.

"Hopefully we can keep them from organizing because if they get organized, we'll start having some major problems," Poff said.

The Gang investigators conference runs through Friday at the Biltmore Hotel.  

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