Sheriff: 'Key to solving rising gang problem lies in prevention' - FOX34 Lubbock

Sheriff: 'Key to solving rising gang problem lies in prevention'

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LUBBOCK COUNTY, Texas -

The first Texas Anti-Gang Center (TAG) opened in Houston six years ago. The Governor's 'Securing Texas' plan capitalized on its effectiveness, replicating the center across the state including in Lubbock.

The agency's been busy since its debut in May. Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe said there's no question in his mind, we are already seeing significant results.

TAG is often involved in investigations surrounding violent crimes. Sheriff Rowe said it all goes back to one rooting problem, narcotics. He said due to our highways, drugs are flowing in and out of Lubbock constantly. The most prominent is methamphetamine. 
 
"We're talking about burglaries, robberies, the gang-violence, which is gang-on-gang, typically violence, issues that come up with various gang, gang members in regard to the narcotics trade, is what we see is the most prolific issue we see on a daily basis," Rowe said. 

Although Rowe said TAG is working, it dos not mean the problem is not growing. 

"I do believe we're seeing an increase," Rowe said. 

TAG reports about 60 different gangs active in Lubbock County, with 1,700 suspected members. Rowe said by combining forces, investigators are proactive instead of reactive. 

"What the TAG center brings us is that ability to have a significant number of law enforcement officers operating under the same roof, where they can share the same intelligence," Rowe said. "They can immediately deconflict on key cases, and we can do everything we can to minimize on their capabilities to distribute these narcotics, creating all the other issues that come as a result of it."

Rowe said it is likely these 1,700 hundred members are not looking to leave their gang anytime soon. 

"Once their in that life, there's next to no chance of getting out of it," Rowe said. 

Steven Henderson directs the Lubbock and Crosby County Community Center and Corrections Department. He said at one point, his parole officers had a separate case load dedicated to gang members. However, those efforts to get members to change their ways just was not happening and even to some extent, putting officers in danger. 

"We looked at different programs, from Dallas, Houston, all these others and they have the same kinds of problems, trying to figure out what can we do to change people's behaviors and that population," Henderson said. "Especially the gang population is just very, very difficult to change." 

Noe Brito worked in a correctional facility for more than a decade and knew the change started with kids. He then founded Tomorrow's Leaders, a mentorship organization that helps students within Lubbock ISD stay on a track towards success. 

"Fifth grade is one of the last opportunities you have to reach these kids," Brito said.

Brito said the key to influencing them is to start before middle school. 
 
"We try to teach them the difference between survival and growth because survival is something you do daily, but growth is something you do from now on," Brito said.

For 10 years now, Tomorrow's Leaders has helped hundreds of children. Brito said they are not bad kids, they just need to know the opportunities out there beyond what they see in their neighborhood. 
 
"We're trying to interrupt poverty because we figure that poverty is one of the reasons why kids end of doing those kinds of things because they see other people that have a lot of things," Brito said. "I mean who doesn't want to wear 200 hundred dollar shoes."

According to recent data, Brito's reaching these kids right before they are expected to start committing crimes. In 36 months, the Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center has documented an almost 15 percent rise in juvenile referrals. The average age is about 13. 
 
William Carter, director of the Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center said gangs are prevalent, but not at an alarming rate. He said the programs it has in place to help these kids are mostly effective. 

"We get kids that are repeat offenders and I hate to say it but they're on that path and we do everything we can with them and they just really don't get it," Carter said. "But the majority of the kids that come through here, they learn from their mistake. they get over it. they go on to lead a good life."

While the Texas Anti-Gang Center operates from an undisclosed location, it does have a website. There are several resources for parents, concerned family members and everyday citizens with what to do if you know someone involved with a gang and how to anonymously report gang crime. 

Rowe adds, an easy way to see if your child may be involved is to check their social media. 

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