Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Drawing on his experience and expertise, Andrews Police chief Joseph Cooper held a discussion about gang awareness with town residents during a gathering he hosted on Nov. 2.
"It's not so much the number of people that attend," he said. "It's how many people that get the message that we're going to bring."
Cooper said the meeting was pretty much a learning experience as a lot of people don't know about gangs in the state of South Carolina.
"The prevention act, which does not prevent anyone from joining a gang, is in place to enforce heavier penalties on those who are gang members," he said, adding it's not against the law to be in a gang in South Carolina.
According to Cooper, a street gang or youth gang is referred to as a group who takes over territories in a particular city or neighborhood.
"A lot of people don't believe in small towns, like this, there are gangs," he said. "I'm not saying there are gangs actually coming through this town, or an influx of gangs, but there are different types of gangs and we are going to discuss that."
Cooper pointed out the police definition of a gang and pretty much how it is used in court.
"It's five or more individuals. Two or three people hanging out together is not a gang. The law says you need five or more," he said.
"They put that in place because everyone has friends but when you get five or more we look at the criminal aspect of it."
A gang may range from a loose group of individuals who may hang around together to commit a crime, or they have gang colors, gang hand signals, initiation rights.
They also have an area or region they frequent all the time. All this is considered gang activity in the eyes of the law, Cooper explained.
Reds, orange, gray, white, golden black, black and blue are different gang sets.
He also discussed what gang members do.
"They intimidate, of course. They see confrontation with other rival gang members, that does happen," he said.
"They commit crimes against persons and property, and assault."
He also said they do a lot of drug trafficking and, "Andrews is an area that drugs come in from Myrtle Beach, Georgetown and Horry County."
"They are coming into this area, whether it is Andrews town limits or Williamsburg County, or surrounding areas and they are loading and dropping off money for drugs and they are keeping it moving up and down the corridor between Horry County, Georgetown, Williamsburg and Berkeley counties," Cooper said.
"Anytime you have a town that sits in an area close to an off ramp or a major thoroughfare highway, you are going to have that problem that's going to come in."
SLED is investigating and keeping documentation, Cooper said, and Andrews is very low as far as crime rates and murders.
"That can change tomorrow, that can change tonight," he said. "All we need is for three or four crimes to happen tonight or this weekend and we went to another level, especially if we don't solve them."
The rivalry between Georgetown and Andrews goes further than sports, he said, there's gang rivalry between the two.
"I'm telling you this because I can tell you its true because not only did I investigate this stuff prior to coming here, but because I am also a part of the FBI Task Force of Criminal Intelligence and we talk about this stuff," he said. "We have a collaboration of a bunch of law intelligence agencies with the FBI, municipalities and the federal government."
Cooper told those attending that, "We haven't had any gang activity in this town since I've been here (about four months). For the most part, this town is safe. But like I said things could change at midnight tonight, you never know."