Dougherty County School Police say gang members are in every school in the system, even elementary schools. They're trying to reach kids at younger ages before the gangs can recruit them. That's why many of their officers are working with the CHAMPS summer program.
This is the 17th year that a summer youth program like CHAMPS has been promoted by the Dougherty County School Police and Sheriff's Office. School police officers are active this year, because they say the camp is more important than ever.
10 year old Alexzandria Love is one of the 105 kids enrolled in this year's CHAMPS Summer Program. She loves playing dodge ball and cheering games, but has also learned a lot about gangs. But the fifth grader at Sherwood Acres Elementary does not think there are gang members at her school. Love said "No, no. Not at all."
School police say they are glad Alexzandria does not know them, but she is wrong. Dougherty County School Police Assistant Chief J. C. Phillips said "Unfortunately gangs are in the elementary schools. One of our elementary schools we came across an all girls gang actually, called Stacks On Deck. It just starts younger and younger every year."
That's why School Police Lt. Ted Thomas is at the CHAMPS program, playing games with and educating campers about gangs.
Thomas said, "They are looking for kids with low self esteem, and here in the camp we are basically telling the kids to build their self esteem up. Have confidence in themselves, so when they say no, they mean no."
So bedsides dodge ball, Alexzandria and the other campers have been given lessons about gangs, and she learned them well.
Love said "Somebody ask you to be in a gang, or they are buying stuff for you, so they can get you in, don't be under pressure. Tell them no. Make sure you get an adult involved."
And school police officers say that lesson needs to be taught to ten year olds.
Thomas said "We do have gang members in all the schools in Dougherty County, and we are hoping that with school police we can educate the kids a lot more that gangs are not welcome in school."
Funs and games for Alexzandia and the kids, but with an important lesson behind them.
The School Police and the Sheriff's Office know if they can keep these kids from joining gangs, that is less crime and violence on our streets, so a safer community overall.
The five week CHAMPS summer program will continue through July 2nd.