Gang activity in Lawrence doesn't compare with such activity in the big cities, but efforts to prevent gang problems should begin now, say local officials who have been invited to a national conference on gangs.
Ten Lawrence residents are planning to attend "Safe Policy: Gangs, Drugs and Managing Juvenile Operations," which will be held Feb. 3 to Feb. 7 in Jekyll Island, Ga. The conference is being sponsored by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in conjunction with the National Center for State and Local Law Enforcement Training.
"We do have a gang situation. Make no mistake," said Patricia Henry, a Douglas County court services officer who will attend the conference. "You may get a lot of denial, but if we stay in that stage, we may end up like Shawnee, Sedgwick or Wyandotte counties."
Henry, who made the application for a Lawrence group to get the training, said the delegation is supposed to represent nine groups and agencies, including the courts, local government, housing, schools, social services and the police department.
Attending the conference will be: Henry; Douglas County District Judge Jean Shepherd; Kevin Johnson, chief court services officer; Lawrence Police Lt. Mike Hall; Assistant Dist. Atty. Shelley White; Elaine Hicks, a probation officer with Douglas County Community Corrections; Rod Bremby, Lawrence assistant city manager; Cathy Mayo, Lawrence Housing Authority assistant director; Rachel Lindbloom, a social worker with the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services; and Ted Juneau, assistant principal at Lawrence High School.
Hall said Lawrence police believe gang activity is "relatively new here and in its infancy."
He said Lawrence hasn't experienced the type of crimes widespread crack cocaine sales, drive-by shootings and turf wars that are commonly connected with established gangs. He said crimes have been committed, however, by people who seem to be "imitating" gang members.
"We're beginning to see what I would call `wanna-bes,'" he said.
Hall said he hopes the conference will provide the local contingency with information that could lead to a "broad-based community approach to these problems."
"Obviously, this is a community problem," he said. "It's not just a law enforcement problem."
Mayo, whose agency oversees public housing for low-income people, said she isn't aware of much gang activity.
"I don't think we have a problem here in Lawrence yet, but I think there's a time when it's bound to come," Mayo said.
She said she expects the conference to be helpful, adding, "You can't deal with the problem if you don't know what's going on."
Henry said the conference will address myths that prevent agencies from cooperating to combat potential gang problems. She said those attending the conference also will develop a plan of action for fighting drug and gang problems found in their community.
Henry said conference participants must pay for meals and airfare but will receive free training and lodging.