MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The youngest person Lake City Police Department Chief Joseph Cooper has interviewed while working gangs was 6 years old.
“He knew everything about the gang,” Cooper said.
As South Carolina experiences a spike in crime, police are pointing to gangs as a contributing factor. Horry County alone, authorities said, has up to 900 gang members.
Gangs are recruiting younger members, are committing more trafficking and are participating in more financial crimes, according to South Carolina authorities.
Violent crime went up by 25% last year in South Carolina.
“Gangs, drugs and criminal access to guns continue to play a significant role in these increases,” said South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said during a June news conference.
Don Wood, the supervisory special agent at the FBI’s office in Columbia, said that he’s also seen that trend.
“We’re seeing human trafficking, sex trafficking, we’re seeing ID theft and from identity theft, they’re branching out and using that to use to conduct financial crimes,” he said.
Wood added that law enforcement has seen gangs get younger and younger.
“We’re seeing late elementary, middle school children in gangs,” he said. “And not only are they part of a gang, they’re actually carrying firearms, discharging firearms, threatening people with firearms.”
Guns, gangs and drugs account for 75% of crime, according to 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson. He said Horry County has about 65 gangs or subsets of gangs.
A lot of that crime comes from gangs “day tripping” to Myrtle Beach from rural areas.
“The biggest thing is the hybrid gangs,” he said. “They come up and go away.”
Those hybrid gangs, he said, are tougher to track because they’re less organized, might change names or disband quickly. Gang-related crime can also be hard to prosecute because witnesses are scared to speak up.
In the Florence Police Department, resource officers are working directly with students for information about gangs, along with providing information so they can understand the realities of gang life.
“They weren’t designed for that,” said Captain Mike Brandt with the Florence Police Department.
Early intervention tactics like that has helped to decrease gang activity in Lake City, according to Cooper.
“We started identifying the gang members, identifying some of the crimes that were committed, and the victims, and we got cooperation from the community, which plays a big part,” he said.
Cooper urges parents to keep a close eye on their children — including their friends — and to stay alert if they suddenly have a lot of money without a clear income.