Sheriff's report

Gang activity is on the rise and Sheriff Ramsey Bennett feels it won’t be long before it reaches Pierce County.

Sheriff Bennett offered that word of caution as part of his annual report to Pierce County,  a 16-page magazine produced in recent years by the Sheriff as a way of keeping taxpayers informed.

The report offers information on the work of the Office of the Sheriff, gleaned from arrest records, court charges and financial reports maintained on behalf of the taxpayers. The report can be found as a supplement inside the local area issues of The Blackshear Times this week.

“Gang activity, I am afraid, will be the next big challenge we face in our area,” Bennett said, shaking his head.

Bennett points out almost all state prisoners released back in to society have some sort of gang affiliation and they begin recruiting new members as soon as they are paroled from the correctional system.

Bennett reassures Pierce Countians the issue of gangs is not a big issue right now, but he says there is evidence gang members are actively working in the area.

“It is spotty, but we know they are out there,” he said.

In a drug related arrest in Offerman in September, one man taken into custody claimed an affiliation with the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang.

Bennett says gang activity is already being reported in Brunswick and even in nearby Waycross.

The sheriff says in addition to the Aryan Brotherhood, the gangs include all the big notorious groups such as the Ghost Face Gangsters, the Crips, and the Bloods.

“They prey on those who are loners, having trouble in school or with their family and try to recruit them,” he said.

The sheriff says the initiations for membership into the group include committing a crime. While some ask recruits to commit burglary and stealing, other gangs require more serious crimes such as assault and shootings.

“Our challenge is to be able to recognize it and combat it,” he said. “We don’t want it to get bad here.”

The sheriff said the challenge is to try to beat it back while using the same amount of deputies and the same amount of budget funds.

Tips for recognizing gang activity include:

• graffiti painted on walls, fences or other objects.

• people in the neighborhood, particularly the youth, wear similar clothing of a specific color, or have tattoos/jewelry bearing a specific shape or emblem and flash hand signals to one another.

• an increase in criminal activity including daytime residential burglaries reported, visibility or public display of weapons, and confrontations among the youth and other residents in the neighborhood and

• the presence of illegal street drugs, such as marijuana and crack cocaine, readily available or used in the open.

“If you see any of this type of behavior and activity, please let us know about it so we can keep an eye on it,” the sheriff said.

In addition to the cautions about gang activity, the sheriff’s annual report includes a wealth of interesting statistics on the work of local law enforcement and Bennett hopes local residents will read the report that is part of this issue and call him with any questions.

“We appreciate our residents helping us out. The people are very supportive of us at the sheriff’s office and we appreciate that. We need our citizens to help us out by being our eyes and ears,” says Bennett. “Your support means a lot to us. We are here to keep you safe through the good times and the bad. That’s our mission. It is the same as it’s always been.”