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CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Gang graffiti and tattoos are on the rise in the Cleveland area, and Bradley County Juvenile Court is calling for a communitywide response.
In a recent presentation to the Cleveland City Council, Juvenile Court officials discussed evidence of a growing gang culture and strategies for combating the problem.
"We've seen an increase in Bradley County in the last three to six months of gang graffiti," said Terry Gallaher, director of Bradley County Juvenile Court. "In our detention facility we've also been detaining kids with gang tattoos."
Other signs are there, said Nancy Stanfield, senior youth service officer for Bradley County Juvenile Court and director of the Law Enforcement Academic and Fitness Academy. Industrial locales such as the Old Woolen Mill in Cleveland have been targeted for graffiti, as has a church in Charleston. Middle school restrooms repeatedly have been tagged, she said.
Part of the presentation included a Bradley County map that detailed the general location and affiliation of adult gang members. Central and southern areas of Cleveland were covered in multiple layers of gang member notifications, but no city or county district was untouched.
The map, Gallaher said, was supported through a technology grant from Cleveland. Even though funding has ended, officials will continue to share ideas and resources.
Stanfield said there are more than 30 gangs affiliated with Bradley County. White supremacist groups encompass most of the identified gang members, but some Mexican gangs probably have greater numbers than have been cataloged, she said.
It will take a proactive attitude, partnerships with the community and continued dedication to strengthening families to prevent the worst from happening, Stanfield said. "We do not have an active gang that's committing [organized] crime here in Bradley County," Gallaher said. "What we believe is that it will start migrating this way from Dalton and Chattanooga over the next few years."
Gang problems ultimately come down to intervening with families, said Gallaher, who compared the strategy to "weeding and seeding" by grappling with core challenges within the family, teaching life and job skills and providing opportunities for service learning.
Gallaher said that, in the big picture, the worst thing people can do is build "political silos" in which government bodies won't cooperate with each other through resources and information.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.