Gang Awareness“There are more than 30,000 documented gangs in the U.S., with more than a million certified gang members,” said detective Mark Wilder, of the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office (HSCO) Gang Unit, during the recently held Bloomingdale area community council meeting. What do these numbers mean for Hillsborough County? Wilder explained that as of the second week of November 2008, the county has 156 documented gangs on record with 3,200 certified members, an almost 50 percent increase in recent years. Gangs and gang awareness are not new to most communities, but with numbers like this, the topic merits attention, hence the reason for the great turnout at the HCSO Bloomingdale substation’s November meeting which is normally held on the third Thursday of each month. Residents, along with local deputies as well as local county officials, discuss important issues pertaining to the community including crime trend, traffic problems or, in this case, gang awareness. According to Wilder, gangs are not illegal in the state of Florida, but gang activity is. Wilder explained that while the state ranked second in the nation only to California, beating out cities like Chicago, New York and New Jersey just to name a few, Hillsborough County is leading the state in taking action to control the problem. “As of October 1 in Hillsborough County, all certified gang members who have been convicted of a crime will be registered and handled similar to the way sex offenders are,” Wilder said. This means that parents and community members will have the opportunity to know about convicted gang members within their neighborhoods. “While registration has already begun, the process of posting the information for the public is currently being worked on,” Wilder said. For now, bedsides the efforts of local law enforcement, members of each community are being encouraged to take the necessary steps in controlling or, hopefully, eradicating gangs or gang-related activity. “But, by all means, do not take matters into your own hands,” HCSO Deputy Pete Maurer said. “That’s when we come in,” he commented. For more information about gangs or to report gang activity, residents are encouraged to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tampa Bay Area Gang Hotline at 877-Gang-Out (426-4688).

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