By JEROD CLAPP
Her slideshow included photo after photo of incarcerated gang members and their tattoos, each with symbolism embedded into the culture of their respective crews.
But Tricia Harbin said while the pictures looked like something out of a Los Angeles police book-in sheet, each of the gang members were arrested in Clark County.
The Jeffersonville Neighborhood Leadership Alliance met Saturday at Park Memorial United Methodist Church to give members across the city a presentation on gang awareness. Harbin, a gang specialist with the Clark County Sheriff’s Department, said while not all crime is directly related to gangs, a lot of it can have direct or indirect links to gangs.
“The connections are everywhere,” Harbin said. “Sometimes, people are stealing for drugs, then they’re getting the drugs from the gangs.”
She said if she were to go through the cell blocks at the jail, she could point out about 15 offenders in each one who were affiliated with one gang or another.
Chris Ralston, a school safety specialist for Greater Clark County Schools said district employees have also seen the possibility of gang presence in schools.
He said teachers are trained in how to recognize potential gang members and how to interact with them, but neighborhood associations might be able to aid in stopping the spread of recruitment.
“They’re the eyes and ears,” Ralston said. “They’re in the neighborhoods every day. We can’t expect police to watch everywhere all the time. But it helps having their eyes open to what’s going on, that just expands our reach.”
He said older gang members typically recruit younger people who might still attend school. He said while at-risk children who have bad family situations at home are recruited, he said they also tend to target intelligent children who might be loners.
Ralston showed several photos of graffiti spray-painted on buildings and homes around the county. He said while he doesn’t want communities to be paranoid about gangs, he wants to make sure they’re aware and vigilant.
He also said he hopes the JNLA and Southern Indiana Gang Task Force can continue to offer information to the community.
“I think educating the public through programs like this helps, but I think we could do more through social media,” Ralston said.
Harbin said there are probably 20 or so active gangs in the city, including white supremacist groups and Mara Salvatrucha — or MS-13 — a notorious group whose United States presence originated in California.
Susan Steinberg, the chairwoman for the Woodhaven Neighborhood Group, said she and her association have tried to keep watch for gang activity, which she thinks they’ve observed.
“I already knew about the MS-13 because I thought they were trying to take over my neighborhood,” Steinberg said. “If I think that’s happening in our neighborhood, I want it out.”
She said with some drug arrests near her neighborhood, her neighbors have worked to keep a close eye on what’s going on.
Harbin said watching for car break-ins, potential drug activity and other signs of crime are good for neighborhoods, residents should be careful to let police handle confrontations.
She said calling 911 in a real emergency is good, but if activity is only suspected or suspicious activity is noted, it’s better to call police dispatch.
Josh Rodriquez, president of the JLNA, said with collaboration between neighborhoods and police, the city can be safer.
“I’m sure there’s gang activity in Jeffersonville,” Rodriquez said. “We know the MS-13 is here, but raising awareness is what we’re here to do. We want to work with our local police and politicians to just make this a better place to live.”