Gangs aren't a problem at the present time in Carbon County, says Lehighton Police Officer Matt Arner. But they do travel through the area and some even have a local presence.
"It's something the community needs to be aware of," he said.
As a result, Arner helped to coordinate the formation of a new "Carbon County Gang Task Force."
The task force held its first meeting at the Carbon County Emergency Management Office in Nesquehoning, with police officers from most municipalities represented. Also attending were state police, members of the Carbon County District Attorney's Office, probation officers, detectives, park rangers, game officials, and Children and Youth case workers.
Arner said, "Information gathered prior to the meeting shows that law enforcement and corrections have had contacts with gang members from several different groups. At least 14 nationally- known gangs have had contacts with law enforcement or corrections in Carbon County and there have been other contacts with localized youth gangs in the last three years."
Actually, their presence in the area is not new. Back in the mid-80s, Robert "Mudman" Simon was part of a motorcycle gang that visited Jim Thorpe frequently. Following a party at a Jim Thorpe home, Simon murdered his girlfriend when she refused to have sex with other members of the gang.
Arner said some of the gangs that recently have had members seen in Carbon include the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Juggalos, Pagans Motorcycle Club, Outlaws Motorcycle Club, Sureno, and Netas.
"Not all of these groups have engaged in organized criminal activity in Carbon County," stressed Arner. "However, their presence has been documented by officers and troopers."
The Gang Task Force will meet on a regular basis.
The main speaker at the first session was Trooper Kent Lane of the Hazleton barracks of the state police, an expert in gang activity. He discussed the sharing of intelligence by law enforcement officers as well as detailing how such information can be used during investigations.
Trooper Lane also reported gang incidents which have occurred in neighboring counties to Carbon.
"Their presence is here and we have to be aware of that," the state trooper said.
Arner said he feels that the presence of gang members in the area has increased in the past three years in Carbon because of the increased population in the area. He said he has seen local residents become involved with motorcycle gangs as well as traditional street gangs.
"We want them to know law enforcement and the judicial system is aware so it doesn't lead to other problems," said Arner. "We're taking proactive action."
Mark Nalesnik, Carbon County Emergency Management Agency director, said he has come across individuals who he knows to be gang members while investigating general emergency incidents.
Arner said he has found Crip graffiti in Lehighton. In addition, Sureno, based out of California, has had members visit the community.
"The Carbon County Gang Task Force's goal is to identify these groups and to ensure that law enforcement and corrections can take action to ensure that these groups do not establish themselves in the boroughs and townships of Carbon County," Arner said.
He added, "The Carbon County Gang Task Force is a cooperative effort between all levels of the judicial system in Carbon County."
Anyone with information on gang activity can contact Arner at the Lehighton Police Department.