June 3, 2004
Dougherty County -- Some top crime fighters are urging Congress to say no to proposed cuts in anti-gang funding.
In Dougherty County, law enforcement officers who work daily with students are worried their anti-gang program could be shut down. The officers believe that would result in more gang violence and crime.
12-year-old Isiah Kelley enjoys playing video games during the day at the GREAT summer program. GREAT stands for Gang Resistance Education And Training. Besides fun, Isiah has learned about gangs. Kelley said, "Being in a gang ain't really the thing to be in, because once you're in it, you can't get out. So that ain't really the right way to go."
Federal funds from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have helped the sheriff's office put on the GREAT Program the last four summers. Captain Kevin Sproul said, "We use that money to purchase items like pool tables, this football game, foozball, air hockey, video games. Things that kids love to do, because without those items for the kids to play with or come here, they will be on the streets getting into trouble and probably filling our jails up."
But now Homeland Security has taken over those funds, and anti gang programs like this could be cut. Officers say that could mean gangs luring these kids in. Dougherty County Officer Erika Ellis said, "That's why we try to keep programs like this in place, as a deterrent, to educate the children on how to resist those pressures."
Albany Police Corporal Gary Stokes referees basketball games now, to teach these kids the right path. Sproul said "We have gangs in the elementary schools. They actually start their initiation process by doing recruiting in the elementary schools."
If the anti-gang federal funding is cut, programs like this would probably end, and many of these kids might turn to gangs and crime for fun. Officer Ellis, "It's here, it's definitely here."
Crime fighters nationwide say these anti-gang programs work and need to continue to fight crime. Sproul said "You know if we can reach one kid, it's been a successful program."
One kid like Isiah Kelley, who got the message about gangs. Isiah said, "It ain't cool, it ain't nothing. It isn't anything."
The FBI reports that gang killings in the United States are up more than 50 percent since 1999. The White House is proposing a 40 percent cut in funding to anti-gang programs.
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