Gang investigators meet on Grand Strand

The Grand Strand is not immune to gang-related crime. It happens all around us. This week, investigators from around the state and nation are in Myrtle Beach, sharing ideas on how to curb gang activity.

Our first question to the gang investigators was, "How bad is the gang problem on the Grand Strand?" But they weren't allowed to answer that question, instead saying in general gangs are a big business in South Carolina.

You can see the graffiti, so few would argue gangs aren't a problem on the Grand Strand. And while local officers couldn't go into specifics, the head of the State Gang Investigators Association, Lt. Phil Reta, quotes a figure that sounds low. "Only 3% of all the crimes reported last year were directly associated with gangs."

But Reta points out, many South Carolina police departments don't categorize crimes as being gang-related. He says uniform reporting of gang activity would help.

Vendors also attended the conference, showing off high-tech tools. But Myrtle Beach officer Paul Yurkin says, the best tool to fight gangs is networking. "The officer who you met in a conference says, 'Hey, Paul, this guy is up here, do you know him? Yeah, I'm investigating that and he's up here doing this, this and the other thing.' That's how you track that gang member."

The officers say gangs can be identified by specific graffiti, tattoos or clothing, and today's gangs are smart. "Gangs now are more like a business. They use a lot of narcotic sales to generate funds to continue their elicit activity," said Heath Platt, Myrtle Beach Police Department Gang Unit.

Hispanic gangs are a growing problem in the Carolinas, attracted by the factories, migrant work and tourism. "They're a viable part of the economy but sometimes with anything, you have people that have other motivations to do that and they get in and take advantage of maybe us looking with blinders on and not seeing how they operate," said Lt. Reta.

Keeping one step ahead of gangs is a challenge, because they're always migrating and evolving, said Platt. "They keep us on our toes, to say the least."

The main topic of today's conference was Asian gangs. They're mostly on the west coast and not much in the Carolinas, but officers say what starts out over there, eventually ends up here.

The gang investigators conference continues through Wednesday.

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