Gang Crime Fight Efforts

Police are taking a new approach to a relatively new problem in this area. They've formed a new Anti-Gang Task Force to fight gang problems that have nearly tripled in the past six months.

Just last week three people were arrested in connection with Tuesday's gang related shooting in Springfield. This weekend, six people were arrested during a joint gang crack down operation, and officers say they expect to make additional arrests.

Sgt. Myron Guilford of the Bay County Sheriff’s Department says gangs weren't a problem here just five years ago, but things have changed.

“The violence has become more meaningful now before it was a little here and there but we can see not it's becoming more popular because of the things they see on TV, videos, movies, video games."

Last week's shooting was the fourth one recorded in Springfield and the east side of Panama City since the beginning of the year. Sgt. Guilford says they've noticed an increase in gang related graffiti around town.

"The sheriff put his foot down and said we need to meet we need to address this issue because this issue is getting out of hand with all the incidents drive by shooting and we got to stop this."

A new Anti-Gang Task Force is hoping to intervene, teaching education and awareness of gang violence. The task force is made up of law enforcement officials from the Bay County Sheriffs Office, Panama City police, and police departments from Springfield, Cedar Grove, Lynn Haven and Parker.

Inv. Steve McEuen of the Panama City Police Department says the force is already busy.

“We've started the enforcement wave now. If someone's involved in a gang and they're involved in committing crimes, we're looking at gang enhancement charges in an effort to deter gang activity."

Officials attribute this weekend’s arrests to the task force.

“Commitment will be as strong as it needs to be."

Members of the anti-gang task force encourage parents to be aware of signs their children may be involved with a gang. Some of those signs include a sudden change in behavior, violence, or questionable friends.

Why the recent increase in gang activity? They don't have a definite reason, but there are a few theories. A couple of weeks ago, Springfield police said they thought some of these gang members came here after Hurricane Katrina forced them out of New Orleans.