WINNSBORO — Fairfield County is making a preemptive strike to crack down on gang activity in schools and the community.
Sgt. Steve McDonald and Cpl. Rick Gibson gave a presentation about gang awareness and prevention on Oct. 3 at the Century House in Ridgeway. The Town of Ridgeway is the first government entity to have presented the public with techniques and procedures to help prevent gang activity.
The program was set up by Councilwoman Belva Bush, who is also vice chair of the Town of Ridgeway Community Actions Committee.
Ridgeway’s Mayor Charlene Herring believes prevention efforts are needed more now than they were in the past.
“Our children nowadays are dealing with situations and decisions that we never had to deal with,” Herring said.
In June, McDonald and Gibson attended 40 hours of Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) in Columbia, and will bring the program to Fairfield County Schools as part of an effort to prevent the spread of gangs and criminal activity.
Close to 30 people attended the forum at the Century House last week, and McDonald said becoming involved and taking initiative is an important first step.
“We can make a difference through small groups,” he stated. “We just have to get the information out to the citizens. It takes a whole community to raise a child.”
During the presentation, McDonald emphasized that prevention was the key as opposed to intervention — which would mean gangs are already established in the community. He showed photos pulled from social media sites like Facebook, showing a local gang “Ridgeway Boyz” standing in front of town signs flashing gang signs with their hands.
He even showed a photo of elementary school children standing on top of a school bus flashing gang signs. Despite those photos, McDonald believes Fairfield County is in a position where it can prevent gangs because there is only one middle school and one high school.
“We just have to work together,” he said. “The community, the schools and the police.”
Contrary to popular belief, 60 percent of rural county youth become involved with gangs. McDonald noted that tagging and graffiti have become a nuisance in Fairfield County. Some tags and graffiti to be on the lookout for:
• 93 — pronounced nine trey — are located in Ridgeway
• 135 — pronounced one trey five — are located in Greenbrier
• CK — Crip Killer Bloods represented by an upside down pitchfork throughout the county
• CWB — Crazy White Boys located in Winnsboro
Gibson echoed the G.R.E.A.T. mission statement: build good communities one child at a time.
“We have to build to help build our youth’s character in order for them to trust us and believe what we’re trying to do,” Gibson noted.
As a School Resource Officer, Gibson makes an attempt to approach every child as a mentor to educate him or her. The G.R.E.A.T. program, which is now being taught at Geiger Elementary by McDonald and Gibson, teaches responsibility and decision making to help youth when they encounter life-problems.
Gibson challenged the community and parents to become more involved.
“How can we change a child if the environment at home does not change?” he asked.
According to a study presented by Gibson and McDonald, a parent interacts with their child for only 14 minutes during the day on average.
“Parents, educators, community residents and police have a essential role in keeping the county gang-free and safe,” Gibson stated. “Our (police) involvement is essential because we are public servants, and I don’t take that lightly. I don’t take anyone’s problems lightly.”
Citizens with concerns regarding gangs or criminal activity are encouraged to call the new Safe School Tip Line at 803-635-7195. Anybody can call and leave a tip anonymously.
“Please, please use it,” Gibson said. “We want the schools to be safe and the community to be safe.”
Dwayne Perry, vice chairman of Fairfield County Council, is able to personally identify with youth being peer pressured by gangs.
“My son, who is in college, told me he was approached almost daily about joining a gang,” Perry noted. “So please don’t think that we’re (Fairfield County) immune. We have to have the conversation with our children. It is not a matter of if they’re going to be approached, it is just a matter of when.”