High poverty rates may contribute to Albany's gang problems - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

High poverty rates may contribute to Albany's gang problems

Posted: Updated:
Some gang graffiti located in an alley around Albany Some gang graffiti located in an alley around Albany
Sgt. E. Duron Thompson, Albany Police Department Gang Unit Sgt. E. Duron Thompson, Albany Police Department Gang Unit
Jon Howard, Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard, Albany City Commissioner
Albany Police Department Gang Unit Intelligence Officers speaking at Thursday's Gang Task Force Meeting  in downtown Albany Albany Police Department Gang Unit Intelligence Officers speaking at Thursday's Gang Task Force Meeting in downtown Albany
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

Albany city leaders say high unemployment and poverty rates are contributing to gang activity.

One commissioner said investing in education and public cooperation with police will make the safer and more prosperous.  Now, City leaders and police officers are turning to the public for help in kicking gangs out of Albany.

Thursday, Commissioner Jon Howard and the public were briefed on a growing gang problem in the city by the Albany Police Department Gang Unit.  They said gangs are thriving in low-to-moderate income areas and are recruiting younger members each year.

Graffiti in an alley near S. Slappey Boulevard is a grim reminder of a growing problem.

"I recall last summer I met with a young man, and this young man was probably about 9 years old.  Although he was not already in a gang, he was actually aspiring to be in one," said Sgt. E. Duron Thompson, Albany Police Department Gang Unit. 

Officers said gangs are growing all over the city, particularly in Ward three.  And city leaders said they could be keeping our economy from growing.

"Because when the population that we have 38-39-percent is in poverty...it is extremely difficult to attract new business or trying to improve the school system," said Jon Howard, Albany City Commissioner. 

And employment goes hand in hand with fighting crime.

"Jobs is a deterial factor that if you've got individuals working, you will see a reduction in crime," Howard said. 

Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard said investing in the city's education is a key to lowering the city's 10-percent unemployment and reducing gang activity.

"A business that wants to come to any community, they want to make sure that...do we have a ready workforce to go to work and so forth.  And our workforce is not what a lot of companies are looking for," said Howard. 

Officers ask parents to monitor their children's social media accounts and phone texts for any unusual writing styles or symbols to keep them out of gangs.

"Always need to keep an eye on your children.  When you turn that blind eye to the children, that's when you wake up and you see...okay maybe I should have been.  So don't wait till it's too late," Thompson said. 

Gang Unit intelligence officers said they're becoming more innovative in their fight against crime, but need help to catch kids before they join a gang.

"You want us to come talk to your children, individual one-on-one, we'll be happy to do it.  You want us to come talk to a group, we'll be happy to do that too," said Thompson. 

And that cooperation, city leaders said, could once again transform Albany into "The Good Life City." 

Officers said the average age of gang members is between 13 and 14 years old.

They have reported an overall drop in crime during the summer, but caution residents of a potential increase in crime as the holiday season approaches.  Officers ask residents to report any graffiti in their neighborhoods to (229) 483-7631, as it could be a sign a gang has moved into your neighborhood.

Copyright 2013 WALB.  All rights reserved.