Summit County to fight gangs

“The Summit County Prosecutor will work with the City of Akron, Summit County Sheriff’s office and the University of Akron to tackle gang activity. The Prosecutor’s Office was informed Aug. 16 that it would receive $149,929 to combat criminal gang activity in Akron.”

The Summit County Prosecutor will work with the City of Akron, Summit County Sheriff’s office and the University of Akron to tackle gang activity.

The Prosecutor’s Office was informed Aug. 16 that it would receive $149,929 to combat criminal gang activity in Akron. The grant, Gang Resistance Education And Training or G.R.E.A.T, was awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice and will extend through Nov. 30, 2008. The Summit County Council voted to accept the grant on Sept. 10.

We are very pleased to have been chosen to start a G.R.E.A.T program here in Akron, Prosecuting Attorney Sherri Bevan Walsh said in a press release. It is a huge victory for our community and the possibilities are very exciting as we move ahead with this program.

Some around Akron might not be aware that Akron has a gang problem

Gangs are in almost every part of the city, said Sgt. Mike Zimmerman, commander of the Akron Police Gang Unit. Gang members commit homicides, assaults, robberies, burglaries and sell drugs.

According to Zimmerman, there are known gangs close to UA.

Gangs close to Akron U are in the Johnston St. area and in the area bounded by Exchange, Grant, Brown and Voris.

In December of 2006, the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office partnered with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and applied for the grant.

We put in the reasons why we believe we are a good county to receive the grant and they must have agreed with us, Laurie Cramer, director of public affairs at the Summit County Prosecutor’s office said. It is very competitive.

Cramer said the Prosecutor’s Office will also work with the university’s Strive Towards Excellence Program. She said they are trying to collaborate with existing programs, and STEP is one of them.

Director of STEP, Deborah Stone, said the program selects kids as early as middle school, trying to turn their heads towards college.

There is an academic scholarship program should students choose UA, Stone said. In the middle education approximately 40 students, in total almost 100 students between middle school, high school and college.

She said they are still trying to work out exactly what role STEP will play in the G.R.E.A.T. grant, but it will involve providing information. Stone said she hopes to inform students and parents of area where gangs are, activities they are involved with, and the signs of a gang activity.

Education empowers people, Stone said.

Cramer said the idea to utilize STEP was easy.

They’re one of our partners that we reached out to early on, Cramer said. There’s just going to be a collaboration between the two, we’re still working out the details, on how the two programs are going to collaborate, but anywhere we can support what she’s doing and vice versa, we’re dedicated to trying to make that work out.

Cramer said there is an existing problem with juvenile violence. She said one of the key components of juvenile violence is criminal gang activity, which has increased seven-fold from 2005 to 2006. There were six cases in 2005, and 42 cases in 2006.

Quite a dramatic increase.

In her grant application to the U.S. Department of Justice, Cramer stated, It is estimated that some 1,000 Akron youths in their mid-teens belong to a gang at this point, and that they’re neighborhood-based, versus the national gangs you tend to see in the big cities.

This is not surprising to the Akron Gang Unit.

We estimate there are about 20 to 30 gangs, Zimmerman said. This is hard to give an exact number because a lot of small gangs come and go. Some gangs that have been around for a while are the Kaika Klan Outlaws (KKO), the V-NOTs, the HILLTOP and the North Side Gangstas (NSG).

Gangs are in most parts of the city.

Zimmerman also said gang-related criminal activity takes place almost every day in Akron.

He said the G.R.E.A.T. grant is a good idea, however his team is an enforcement team, meaning he doesn’t get involved with prevention efforts.

Zimmerman said guidance from parents and other influential role models in a child’s life, starting at a very early age, is the best way to deter individuals from joining a gang.

This program would be a way to hopefully get kids to make the right decision to stay away from gang members and gang activity, he said. We have kids as young as 11 and 12 involved in gang activity.

Kids join for a feeling of belonging, for a feeling of power and for money.

Something individuals should be aware of, however, are the consequences of being involved with a criminal gang.

Participating in a criminal gang is a second-degree felony and punishable by up to eight years in prison, Zimmerman said.

The APD Gang Unit works with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force. They also work with other jurisdictions who ask for assistance.

” #1.1361842:726812684.jpg:20070918_gang_jh.jpg:Gang activity has been reported in the area bound by Exchange, Grant, Voris and Brown streets, and in the Johnston Street area.:”