According to Tom Erickson, public information officer for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, gang activity in Johnson County is “probably much more prevalent than people are aware of.”
There are currently seven confirmed gang members and nine confirmed gang member associates in custody in the county’s jails.
Between January and July, the sheriff’s office has identified 59 confirmed gang members and 76 gang member associates.
Last year, 80 gang members and 130 associates were identified.
Erickson said those numbers only represent the gang members and associates who were booked into jail.
“We identify gang members as they enter into our jail system,” he said. “We have staff dedicated in the jail to identify potential gang members and associates of gang members in our facility.
“We also communicate with surrounding police agencies.”
Kansas law enforcement officials are ramping up efforts to combat gang activity and involvement.
A statewide anti-gang initiative was announced Aug. 22 by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Appearing alongside area law enforcement officials at Kansas City Kansas Community College, Schmidt said the key to combating gang-related crime and violence is education and community involvement.
“We need the support of parents, educators, young people and communities to help prevent youth from joining gangs and to report gang activity to law enforcement,” Schmidt said.
Gang Free Kansas aims to give parents the information they need to identify gang activity and to keep their children from joining gangs.
It also encourages community members to report gang activity when they see it.
Schmidt said Gang Free Kansas is the result of a multi-jurisdictional effort to combat gang activity throughout the state.
Gangs — which are fueled by the drug trade — are known to operate in several parts of Kansas.
That includes Johnson County.
According a brochure provided by the Attorney General’s Office, gangs recruit young people by giving them “false promises of safety and protection” and by offering “a deceptive sense of family and belonging.”
They often seek out recruits who have low self-esteem and who seek attention, status, respect and a sense of belonging.
Parents can help by getting involved in their children’s school activities, setting a positive example as a role model, getting to know their children’s friends and families, encouraging good study habits and teaching their children to deal with peer pressure and to develop conflict resolution skills.
Young people are also less likely to become involved in gang activity if they are involved in after school activities.
Schmidt’s announcement tour was also scheduled for stops in Topeka, Wichita, Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal and Salina.
For more information, visit www.gangfreekansas.org.