For the first time ever, Comanche County is receiving a grant from the federal government to battle and prevent gangs. The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs presented the $100,000 grant at the Comanche County Courthouse Friday morning. "Comanche County was receiving absolutely zero...," says Lawton Representative T.W. Shannon. "I didn't think that was fair, and we fought very hard to receive a portion of those dollars."
Local and state officials say it's an acknowledgement of the problems gangs are causing in Southwest Oklahoma. Marie Detty Youth and Family Services is one of the agencies chosen to receive some of the grant money. More than half of the money from the grant will pay for therapy and counseling services for gang members, and kids at risk for joining gangs. "We've chosen functional family therapy to work with kids who are already entrenched in gangs as well as those who are at risk," says Rick Lowe of the County Juvenile Bureau.
Representatives from Marie Detty and the Juvenile Bureau signed on the dotted line and officially accepted the Federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant. Officials had to plan where exactly the money would go before applying for the grant. "It's not dictated from the state level," says Gene Christian who heads the Office of Juvenile Affairs. "It's not dictated from my office about how they want to address those problems. "It actually allows them to create here, a local steering committee, which could direct the distribution of the fund."
The remainder of the grant will pay overtime for the Lawton Police Department's Gang Unit, and the county's Juvenile Probation Officer. "The best part is, once we have a comprehensive plan or strategy in place, a lot of other groups that don't necessarily have to be government entities will be able to compete on their own for various grants launching off the platform we're building," says Lowe. "We don't think this covers it all, it's certainly a step in the right direction. We feel good about it at this point."
The goal is to make this an annual grant, with possibly even more money. Although the grant is nice, officials would still like to see some of the state's $1.2 Million for gang prevention come to Lawton. Currently, it still only goes to Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Authorities soon will have one more tool in their fight against gangs - a statewide database that will enable law enforcement to share information about gang members.