Gangs, wannabes a growing problem on Grand Strand

Federal authorities have arrested several dozen people as part of a multi-year investigation into a gang in South Carolina.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles and FBI Special Agent in Charge David Thomas said Wednesday the arrests are part of a two-year probe into the Bloods street gang.

Prosecutors said the defendants face more than 100 total charges including racketeering, prostitution and drug and weapons crimes. Nettles says ringleader David Andrea Jenkins is originally from Columbia and now lives in Huntington Beach, Calif.

During searches in South Carolina and California, agents found drugs, cash and weapons. All of the defendants live in the Columbia area.

While it's obvious there are street gangs in Richland County, police on the Grand Strand say gangs like the Bloods or Crips are not as organized in Horry County.

But local police worry that smaller gangs are becoming more active on the Grand Strand, and even if the members are just gang wannabes, they're still dangerous.

Surfside Beach police chief Mike Frederick, who has taught college-level classes on gangs, says while this area is not overrun by gang warfare on the streets, neither is the county gang-free.

He says, according to the solicitor's office, there are at least 450 indentified gang-affiliated people in Horry County.

"They commit acts of violence, they commit thefts, they of course deal drugs, just engage in all types of destructive behaviors that don't only victimize gang members," Frederick said.

Those criminals may not belong to a national organization like the Bloods, but Frederick said, if one of them shoots you, it doesn't matter.

"You don't care what tattoo they have on or if they are affiliated or not. Gang violence is just that, it's violence, so it's dangerous for everybody," he said.

Horry County police chief Saundra Rhodes said every high school in the county has found some organized group of kids involved in gang activity.

So she is trying to put together a street crimes unit, with its duties to include addressing the growing problem of gangs.

"We're sending officers out right now to the academy and some other schools, to educate ourselves on gang activity, how to address it, how to identify it and how to suppress it," Rhodes said.

The level of organized gang violence has not reached that of many major cities, Rhodes said, but with Myrtle Beach as a transient community, that will come in time.

"I do believe once they get here and get organized, that we will see some of the problems that we see in some of the more metropolitan areas."

Rhodes said street gangs in big cities try to recruit members as young as 10 years old to be drug runners, so one of her goals will be to educate local parents about how to identify gang activity in their kids.

Rhoides hopes to have the department's street crimes unit in place by the end of this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.