“If there’s a child carrying around a bandana, bells should go off,” the officer said.
More than 100 juvenile arrests were made in Beeville just during 2010, Baron said. Their crimes ranged from theft to drug possession and sales to criminal mischief.
Juvenile gangs caused more than $20,000 in damages in this city. They were responsible for brush fires, vandalized automobiles, assaults on family members and disruptions in the classroom.
“I’m not talking about high school kids,” Baron told the crowd of about 40 people. “These kids are between the ages of 10 and 13.” Most are middle school students.
Baron warned parents, teachers, business owners and others who deal with juveniles on a daily basis to watch for various signs that could identify gang activity.
Colors, like bandanas, gang-style clothing, caps worn a certain way, bicycles painted a certain color, lack of interest in school, falling grades, lack of respect for authority and, of course, arrests are clear signs that a young person is falling into a street gang lifestyle.
Another thing to look for is tattoos. Not all are the permanent type. Many tattoos on young people are drawn on, often with indelible markers.
But some are permanent.
“Why does a 14-year-old need a tattoo?” Baron asked. “If you know what to look for, he’s telling you what he is.”
The officer said police have found several youngsters who already have permanent, gang-related tattoos, often made by a tattoo needle in his or her own family.
“This one was on a 13-year-old kid,” Baron said as he flashed a slide of a tattoo on a screen in the training center.
“The number one reason for most juveniles to be in a gang is because their parents were in a gang,” Baron said.
The officer also explained what to look for when people find graffiti painted in their neighborhoods or on the property of their own children.
He named the four local gangs and what symbols they use to identify their groups. He told those at the center what each gang specializes in and how many members are suspected to be in each group.
To gang members, graffiti “is like wearing a T-shirt.”
Symbols in the graffiti tell people who see it if the gang is involved in drug sales and if its members will fight to defend their territory.
The good news, Baron said, is that the leaders of most of Beeville’s street gangs are now out of the community, serving time in juvenile facilities.
But that does not mean the problem has stopped. Other members are stepping up in the gang hierarchy to replace the missing leaders.
With the help of concerned parents, teachers and business people, the BPD can continue cracking down on gangs and gang-related crime and keep this city’s streets safe.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.