Lawton_Lawton has seen its share of gang activity. In fact, its highest record of violence was recorded two years ago. Most were drive bys, and all were gang related. Lately, it has gang activity has decreased, but law enforcement are not letting down their guard. The Lawton Police Department's best defense is to fight crime with knowledge.
More than 100 law enforcement officers and educators joined on Friday to learn everything they could about gangs, and gang activity. The workshop was open to anyone interested in attending, but it was targeted to those who work closely with children.
Kirk Mullenix works with the School of Opportunities and Real Education Program (SCORE). SCORE helps high school drop-outs complete their education, but Mullenix says gang activity is not necessarily the reason the kids SCORE reaches out to have abandoned their education. However, he says it can play a part. Mullenix says many students feel a need to belong, and may fall prey to gang activity. "Kids want to belong to something, and when they can't find something good to belong to, they find something negative," he says.
So, Mullenix made the decision to educate himself so that he would have a better understanding of gangs. He says he learned that criminal gang activity doesn't discriminate, and makes any child vulnerable. "There's no magic formula," he says. "You can't cookie cut everyone."
Lawton Police Officer Tim Poff, the Gang Investigators Association Regional Director, says a big solution to decreasing gang activity and violence is to keep track of the latest in gang trends - such as tagging interpretation. He says knowing what a particular tag means could reveal the hidden message behind it.
Poff says he doesn't feel as if Lawton is winning the war on gangs at this time since kids are joining gangs at such a young age. "[It has reached] an epidemic level for kids...all the way down to elementary school." He says the attention those in gangs receive from other gang members is attractive to kids.
Poff says having knowledge of children's vulnerability may save him or her from being lured into a gang. He says the first step in the process of safeguarding children from the temptation of joining a gang is consistency in education. "It takes a village to raise a child," he says. "It takes everyone to work together. If someone else is pulling the opposite way on the rope, it makes it harder to solve the problem."