The Leon County Sheriff's Office has documented at least 200 gang members in Leon County and gang investigators say their influence is spreading. You may have heard the names MS-13, Latin Kings, Bloods and Crypts. They're just a few nationally known gangs showing up in the area.
Sheriff Larry Campbell said, "You name it, we pretty well have got somebody here who is affiliated with them."
Sheriff Campbell added gangs didn't used to be a priority in Leon County, at least up until a few years ago when the "bad guys" started moving in.
Gang investigators in his department learned it was no longer just neighborhood street gangs they were dealing with. Members from the nationally known gangs were recruiting Leon County school kids from elementary to college age.
The increase in youth involvement in gangs pushed Tallahassee Mayor John Marks to create a Taskforce on the issue about a year ago. On Monday, that Taskforce came out in the first of a series of outreach efforts to address the issue of awareness.
Joe Thomas, with the Youth Development Council said, "We just want parents to be educated and we want them to know that they need to be aware of a lot of things going on with their kids."
The Mayor, the Sheriff, and the Youth Development Council were joined by Tallahassee Police Chief Walt McNeil, County Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons, and from the 2nd Judicial Circuit, Public Defender Nancy Daniels and State Attorney Willie Meggs. The group pledged to fight gang violence, but they're asking for help from the people on the front lines of this battle, parents.
INV Derek Friend with the Tallahassee Police Department said, "A lot is looking, just looking at what's going on."
DET Grady Jordan with the Leon County Sheriff's Office said, "We want to get the message out, be aware of what you're showing your kids and what they're listening to."
Mayor Marks said kids need more structured activities to keep them out of trouble.
He added, "If we don't take care of our youth, then we really are in trouble in this community."
Tallahassee City Parks and Recreation will operate recreational centers on extended hours to help occupy the free time kids will have during the holidays.
Parents and community members can give their own input to the Taskforce next month during a Town Hall meeting. The goal is to find resources and a solution.