WICHITA — The Wichita Crime Commission has launched a gang awareness initiative designed to provide the community with information about gangs, the group's executive director said today.
Gordon Bassham said the purpose of the Gang Free Wichita initiative is to raise community awareness about gangs and how they prey on young people.
The goal "is to rid the community of street gangs," Bassham said. "There's no doubt this is a lofty goal indeed, but we must start somewhere."
The effort includes the use of a website, www.gangfreewichita.org, which will provide information about gangs and gang activity. It will include links to helpful websites and contact information for local law enforcement.
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Clear Channel Outdoor Advertising has donated space on all nine of its digital billboards in the Wichita area for the next four weeks to help publicize the program.
Local law enforcement officials applauded the effort.
"I think this is a very important initiative," Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said. "Eliminating gangs in Wichita and Sedgwick County is a worthy goal, but we can't do it just as law enforcement.
"It's going to take everyone out there becoming involved," he said. "Eliminating gangs is going to start at the family level."
Wichita Deputy Chief Tom Stolz said gang-related crimes have dipped slightly in the city so far this year, but authorities can't afford to relax their vigilance.
"There's a constant maintenance issue with gangs," Stolz said. "The second you take your foot off the gas, gang crimes go up."
Public-private partnerships such as Gang Free Wichita can be a pivotal piece in the fight against gangs, he said.
The Wichita Crime Commission is a 58-year-old nonprofit organization made up of community leaders whose mission is promoting, fostering and encouraging greater interest by the public in the prevention of crime and the enforcement of criminal laws.