By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
February 28, 2018
DOUGHERTY COUNTY, Ga. (WCTV) – From the streets to the hallways, gang affiliations could be starting younger than you think.
"We've had a few cases where, we've had elementary school level kids that, I wouldn't call them certified or bonnafied gang members but they may have seen something that they saw on television, or from an older relative or someone in the community," said Chief Troy Conley with the Dougherty County School System Police Department.
Dougherty County Schools said they are seeing signs of gang affiliations as early as middle and elementary school.
"These kids are being courted often times before they even know they are," said JD Sumner, Dougherty County Schools Public Information Officer.
Chief Conley said all school district staff, teachers and principals are trained to recognize warning signs and problem indicators.
"There are a great deal of safety concerns. It's not always related to active shooter, there is a number of different things that can cause problems in an educational setting. We want to strive to identify as many as possible, as early as possible," Conley said.
The school district said to look for things like strange symbols or a sudden interest in colors or clothing.
"You may notice a change in behavior, the child or student may become defiant, have a tendency to go against the grain or break the rules for no apparent reason," Conley said.
Parents are also urged to take note of warning signs.
"What parents can do is stay active and involved in their kids lives. It may seem like snooping, it may seem like an invasion of privacy, the kids won't like it but often times it will save their life," Sumner said.
Officials said it's never too early to start talking.
"If parents are worried about introducing gang materials to their kids because they're too young, reality is chances are they're going to be exposed to it in schools anyway, and I think parents want to be the first authority on it," Sumner said. "If parents can stay involved, and stay as a motivating factor in their children's lives, then statistically the kids will end up better as grown adults and lead successful lives."
The Dougherty County School System Police Department also provides mentorship to all the elementary school students to help keep them on the safe path.
The department said if parents have concerns or questions about their children and gang affiliation, they can contact their local police department.