Chester's New Gang Task Force Meets
Gangs continue to be a problem in Chester County with drive-by shooting incidents increasing, including one in November that left a sitting city council member dead. Five reported gang members have been arrested in that case.
Last month the county sheriff asked the county council for money to hire more police officers. Instead, the county formed a gang task force. The task force held its first meeting Monday, Jan. 12.
Why a task force instead of hiring additional officers?
It was a heated meeting in which Sheriff Alex Underwood called for more officers. Some considered it an impassioned plea, but some council members thought the sheriff was confrontational and exaggerated the problem.
In any case, he was told the money wasn’t there. So, County Council Chairman David Jordan suggested the task force to first determine the scope of the problem.
“I do think there’s a problem but I don’t know the extent of it,” Jordan said. “The whole reason for the task force, is to assess our needs and determine if the need is most critical for boots on the ground or if it’s prevention or intervention, so that’s the process we’re taking right now is to make that determination.”
During last night’s meeting, Jordan got very basic in terms of asking law enforcement officials for the definition of a gang, what is a gang-related incident, who are the gang members and passed out forms to disseminate to teachers, students, police and churches to fill out about gang activity they’ve experienced.
So how do law enforcement officials feel about the task force?
Sheriff Underwood has made it clear that he thinks the task force will just rehash what they already know and his deputy chief was quick to say at the meeting that they already know who the gangs are, where they operate and emphasized that there is no question that there is a major gang problem in Chester that is becoming increasingly violent.
The city’s police chief agreed that the problem is real and that they know the players but said in order to curtail the problem, you have to know what it is and get the entire community involved because the issue is quote “bigger than law enforcement.”
Did people besides law enforcement and government officials speak up?
A pastor on the task force said he understands the Sheriff’s Department’s view and relayed how members of his congregation are scared and frustrated. People don’t know how to respond and help their neighbors, he said.
The task force members, who include school officials, the county attorney, talked about training more reserve officers, finding mentors to work with youths who are susceptible to gang recruiting tactics and applying for grants for funding.
Where does it go from here?
Three other meetings are scheduled but Jordan says others can be added if they think that’s necessary. He hopes the task force will have recommendations for the council to consider by the time the budget process gets underway in February.