Raising awareness about gangs
Collier officials say 1400 involved in gangs
COLLIER COUNTY — Collier County is known more for its white, sandy beaches than for its gang battles.
Still, Collier is home to about 1,400 gang members and gang associates, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office gang unit reported today.
“It sounds like a lot. In my mind it is a lot,” said Cpl. Gene Meek of the Sheriff’s Office’s gang unit. “I want that number to be zero. Will we ever get it to zero? No, I doubt it.”
Meek spoke this morning to 16 people who attended the Sheriff’s Office’s Minority & Ethnic Affairs Bureau meeting in Naples.
Collier is home to both traditional gangs with national ties and non-traditional, hybrid gangs that are locally based, Meek said. Those gangs recruit in schools, night clubs, athletic events, jail, and even in local churches.
“Where are you not going to have law enforcement? Churches,” Meek said. “Churches are great places to recruit. We actually had a gang that was having their meetings after Wednesday night youth group.”
Traditionally, Collier County has had three major pockets where gang activity is most common: Naples Manor, Golden Gate, and Immokalee, Meek said. About 65 percent of Collier’s gang members are of Hispanic origin, Meek said, with the rest evenly split between white, black, and Haitian gangs.
It’s the job of the Sheriff’s Office’s six-man gang unit to put pressure on those gangs in an effort to curb their recruiting efforts, stomp out crime, and move the gangs out of town. Meek said they’ve been successful reducing gang membership and activity in Collier County by focusing on schools and working with parents.
“In most places, with most gangs, that’s where they do all the recruiting,” Meek said. “You want the young guys. ... Our gang members are slowly dropping. They’re aging out. If they can’t recruit, then our numbers drop.”
Meek explained why gangs are attractive — they offer a place where young people can fit it — and described their criminal activities and initiation rituals, which include things like “beat-ins” and “sex-ins” for females.
Christina Cook, a mental health case manager who attended the meeting, said the topic was important to her because she has a son just starting at a new school. Every parent has concerns about gangs, she said, and she tries her best to educate her children.
“I’m kind of a realist,” Cook said. “I know it’s there, but I think it gets minimized a little bit. ... I think the awareness just has to be there.”
Meek said his unit is willing to give similar presentations to other groups in Collier County. For more information, call the Sheriff’s Office at (239) 252-9300 and ask for the gang unit.
Meek asks that residents who see evidence of gang activity, whether it be graffiti or people wearing gang clothing, report it to the Sheriff’s Office as well.
“It affects how people perceive the area,” Meek said. “We still do the whole idea that if you see graffiti we want to get it covered over as quickly as possible to keep the perception here in Naples that it’s a great place to live, because it is, and we don’t want people to perceive it otherwise.”
Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/