MICHAEL A HEERY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS At its most recent meeting, Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch presented a program on gang awareness. Leading the discussion were, left to right, Lehighton Area High School Assistant Principal Daniel Repsher; Lehighton Police Officer Matt Arner; Lehighton Mayor Donald Rehrig; and Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch Program Coordinator Byron Schnell.
At its most recent meeting, Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch presented a program detailing gang activity not in Allentown, Hazleton, or Scranton - but right here in Carbon County - specifically in the Lehighton area.
With extensive gang awareness training under his belt, Lehighton Police Officer Matt Arner explained that several "former" gang members are now living in Carbon County.
"Also, the gang culture is reaching into our schools," said Arner.
Presenting an array of photos, Arner explained various graffiti found in the Lehighton area. The purpose of the graffiti is to intimidate and also to "mark the territory" of the various gangs.
According to Arner, gangs which have made their presence known in Carbon County include Bloods; Crips; Juggalos; Ku Klux Klan; Latin Kings; MS-13; Outlaws Motorcycle Club; Pagans Motorcycle Club; Skin Heads; and Trinitarios, as well as other occult, satanic, and white supremacy gangs.
Unaffiliated street gangs in the area include Dirty City Gang; G4L (Gangs For Life); G-High; Vice Rascals; and White Villains.
Arner pointed out that not all gangs are about hip-hop. He explained that probably the best definition of a gang is the one used by Chicago Police Department:
"A gang is an organized group with a recognized leader whose activities are either criminal or, at the very least, threatening to the community.
"Unity, identity, loyalty and reward are normal characteristics that are admired, but when associated with gangs they become distorted. They are traits each gang shares in order to survive.
"Gangs display their identity and unity in obvious ways, such as the use of jewelry, selected colored clothing, jargon and signals. Members remain together in quiet times as well as in conflict. In response to this twisted loyalty, gang members are rewarded by being accepted and recognized as a gang member.
"The main source of income for most gangs is narcotics. Members of all ages are used by the gang in the illegal sale of narcotics and other unlawful activities. It is a mistaken belief that gangs operate only in less affluent neighborhoods. Gangs exist in virtually every community."
Factors that contribute to gang membership include dysfunctional family life; fear and protection; identity; monetary gains; popularity; and recognition.
Arner suggested that identification of gang members in the community and strong drug enforcement are essential to combat gang activity. In addition, communities must work hand-in-hand with schools.
"Schools are a breeding ground for gang activity."
"This gang awareness presentation is not meant to scare, but to inform," said Lehighton Mayor Donald Rehrig. "Get involved and call with any suspicious activity," he said.
Currently, the tip line to report possible non-emergency criminal activity is (610) 377-4003.
In other business, Program Coordinator Byron Schnell reported that Crime Watch signs have been or are being erected in strategic areas throughout the borough of Lehighton, as well as the surrounding townships.
Individuals, families, businesses, and other organizations are being asked to make donations to the young community program in order to purchase the signs. In addition to the metal signs, the group also looks to purchase decals, bumper stickers, and T-shirts.
Donation cans have been distributed throughout the community. Donations may also be mailed to Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch at P.O. Box 596, Lehighton, PA 18235.
Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch continues its mission to help make the community a safer place to live, learn, work, and play. The organization will present a child identification program by Tara Porter on Tuesday, July 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Lehighton Area High School.
All interested community members are invited and encouraged to attend and become involved. It is not just for the borough of Lehighton, but also for each of the townships that comprise Lehighton Area School District - East Penn, Franklin, and Mahoning townships.
Established in 1972, Neighborhood Crime Watch has proved to be one of the oldest and most effective crime prevention programs in the country. This local campaign is an outgrowth of Lehighton Area Drug and Alcohol Task Force.
For more information, to volunteer, and/or to make a donation to the community-wide program, contact Schnell at (610) 377-1926.
For more information about a Neighborhood Crime Watch program in general, visit www.USAonWatch.org.