By JENNIFER HORTON
The Wilson Post
Lebanon Police Department invites the community to a workshop designed to inform parents, educators and others who deal with young people about gangs and how to keep children out of such groups.
The workshop is free and will be held from 6 until 8 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Journey Church located at the corner of Leeville Pike and South Maple Street in Lebanon.
Were continuing to have a problem with gangs, said Police Chief Scott Bowen.
The workshop will include topics such as what defines a gang, the different types of gangs, information regarding local gangs, their structure, why young people join them, early indicators of gang involvement by youngsters for parents to be aware of and more. Keynote speaker will be Lt. Koy Lafferty of the LPD, and he will be joined by personnel from the FBI.
Bowen said after the presentation, the audience will be able to voice their concerns during a question-and-answer session and will also be able to talk to authorities one-on-one, if they prefer.
Bowen noted his department takes this matter so seriously that one of his officers is assigned to the FBIs Violent Crimes Task Force which works on gang-related issues.
Who would have thought that gangs would come to Lebanon and then on to Sparta, Cookeville? he asked, noting that gangs have in recent years moved more and more into smaller, rural areas of the country. No longer are they located in larger cities such as Chicago, Memphis, Los Angeles and others.
Bowen noted a trial is under way this week in federal court in Nashville involving a member of the Vice Lords gang, the result of an investigation in which 17 Mid-state individuals, including 11 members of the gang, were indicted in September 2011.
LPD, along with Wilson County Sheriffs Department, police departments in Metro Nashville, Sparta and Cookeville, sheriffs departments in White and Putnam Counties, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Highway Patrol, FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, conducted a joint investigation into the activities of the Vice Lords gang, 11 members of which, gave Lebanon addresses.
The 17, which included those who were reported to be illegal drug suppliers, were indicted in September 11 for their alleged participation in a drug distribution conspiracy and associated violence while also illegally possessing firearms.
Of the total, 16 of the suspects were charged with conspiracy to possess, with the intent to distribute crack cocaine, cocaine and marijuana; five of the 17 also faced federal firearms charges; and one was charged of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
It says something about the case we did, Bowen said, noting that 13 of the 17 defendants have either pleaded guilty in federal court or proffered, or offered, a sentence.
On trial this week is Monique Money Smith, 41, of Cookeville, who reportedly pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine in addition to multiple charges of carrying a firearm as a convicted felon. A number of those already convicted in the case were expected to testify against him during the trial.
They drive our violent crime, Bowen said of gangs, noting their activities include illegal drug sales, robberies, assaults, shootings and more.
Part of our job is to educate the public. We hope educators, parents, those who deal with youth are asked to come out (to the workshop), he said. We know there are things we can do to keep kids out of gangs. If we can keep one kid out of gangs, theres no way you can put a price on that.
The object is to help young people make good choices and sound decisions and to let them know of the consequences for making bad decisions.
The police chief noted that local authorities have sought in cases involving suspected and confirmed gang members to take them to the federal level for prosecution where sentences are more severe. Persons convicted of a charge in federal court must, by law, serve at least 85 percent of whatever sentence is handed down by the judge.
Smith, he added, is looking at 10 years to life in federal prison if he is convicted.
The National Gang Center estimated that during the past decade the number of gangs nationwide have averaged around 25,000 with smaller cities, like Lebanon, accounting for more than 30 percent of that number.
Also during the past decade, the NGC estimated the number of gang members nationwide at about 750,000. Authorities in smaller cities and rural areas, where gang activity is more recent, are more likely to report juvenile gang members, NGC researchers said.
The workshop set for Oct. 23 is the second one conducted by LPD. Bowen said based on the response from the one held previously and also the response he received during a recent talk he made to the Lebanon Noon Rotary Club meeting, he and others decided it was time to hold another workshop to keep local citizens informed about the gang issue.
The workshops, he added, may become an annual event.
As a department, we must continue our efforts to educate our youth and their loved ones about the dangers of gangs. Workshops such as this play a vital role in providing information that our citizens need to be well informed about the dangers of gangs. It is much easier to keep a child out of a gang than to try and get them out once they become involved, the chief said.
Editor Jennifer Horton may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.