Bradley County Juvenile Committee members listened to a presentation Tuesday about gangs in Bradley County.
Using information from the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, Nancy Stanfield, senior youth services officer, created a map of locations of known gang members who had been arrested in Cleveland and Bradley County. The map also included locations of know juvenile gang members.
“It is not something that has just come into Bradley County, it is something that has been around Bradley County forever,” Stanfield said.
Juvenile court directer Terry Gallaher said the county has taken preventive measures to keep things from getting out of hand. He said counties and cities that deny the existence of gangs will have more issues when gang activity increases.
The first known organized gang in Bradley County was back in the mid-1990s.
“And they were all in the juvenile system,” Stanfield said.
White supremacist groups have the largest number of known gang members in Bradley County, he said.
Stanfield said the point of the presentation was not to scare people, but simply help them be aware “of what is going on.” The juvenile court staff have made the presentation to a number of local agencies.
“We want people to be aware, so you know what your surroundings are,” Stanfield said.
Gang members live in a variety of areas.
“It’s not just the poor neighborhoods,” Stanfield said.
She said juvenile gang members often come from “broken homes.”
“They want to feel like they belong. They find somebody that gives them the time of day,” Stanfield said.
Respect is also important to a gang member.
Many times in a single-parent home children can get lost in the pace of life.
“Its not that they don’t want time with their kids — they don’t have time to be with their kids to see where their kids are going,” Stanfield said.
As single parents work one or two jobs to provide, questioning the specifics of who their children are spending time with often does not happen, according to Stanfield.
“It’s not that Mom doesn’t care. It’s that everyone has so much going on right now that there isn’t time,” Stanfield said.
Often, younger gang members are more dangerous because “they have something to prove,” Stanfield said.
“Kids don’t think about consequences. Kids don’t think about tomorrow,” Stanfield said.
Interstate 75 makes Cleveland an “easy stop” between bigger cities such as Knoxville and Chattanooga, said committee member Jeff Yarber.
“Cleveland is an easy stop, if we allow it to be, between Chattanooga and Knoxville to start gang activities, if we allow it ... but they (law enforcement) have never allowed it to be,” committee member Jeff Yarber said.
At the juvenile court level, youth service officers are trained on gang symbols and tattoos. Stanfield said bandanas are also still a part of gang distinction.
The juvenile court also partners with others who work with children to be on the lookout for potential juvenile gang members.
Gang symbols and slogans have been found on walls in Cleveland and in some of the local schools.
Also during the meeting:
The committee received an update on an air-conditioning unit being replaced at the juvenile center. The unit had been struck by lightning. Gallaher told the committee that the amendment to approve the funding needed to replace the unit had been approved at the last finance committee meeting. The funding would come from the Bradley County general fund.
“This was a unit that was really, really old. It needed to be replaced anyway,” Gallaher said.
He said there are other similar units that will needed to be replaced in the future.
Yarber suggested some additional money toward funding the replacing of older units be requested in future budgets.