The Wichita Crime Commission has launched a new gang awareness initiative designed to provide the community with information about gangs, the group's executive director said Friday.
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 serve as a community resource to 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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Among the information on the website, Bassham said, is how parents can spot warning signs that indicate their child may be involved with gangs and tips on how to keep them out of gangs.
Police have come across "documented plans of action on how to get kids to join certain gangs," Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said.
"They are recruiting, and they are recruiting younger" — as young as 10 years old now, he said.
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.
"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."
Stolz said gang-related crimes have dipped slightly in the city so far this year, but authorities can't afford to relax.
"There's a constant maintenance issue with gangs," Stolz said. "The second you take your foot off the gas, gang crimes go up."
That happened when the serial killer BTK resurfaced in 2004, Stolz said. Gang unit officers were reassigned to assist in the hunt for BTK, and gang crime soared.
Public-private partnerships such as Gang Free Wichita can be a pivotal piece in the fight against gangs, he said. They can help families deal with the social pressures gangs create.
"We'll admit the social aspect of gang issues is not our strength," Stolz said. "Our strength is enforcement and prevention and criminal justice matters."
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.