Lake Norman & Mooresville

Graffiti is sign of gang activity in Mooresville

Mooresville barbershop owner Anthony Gallo is always looking for ways to attract clients, but the signage on his business isn't exactly what he was thinking.

One morning in November, Gallo found gang-related graffiti on three sides of his building.

"It was a shock. It looked like something out of a movie," said Gallo.

The expletive-laden graffiti was likely used to mark the gang's territory, Gallo was told by police.

Based on the symbols used, it was likely tagged by someone affiliated with the Crips, a West Coast gang, police told him.

A second person with female handwriting also tagged his building and is likely affiliated with a sister gang, police said.

Scott Speagle, the accreditation manager with Mooresville police who has specialized in gang-related incidents in the area, said the department has seen an increase in gang-related activity over the last several years, particularly graffiti.

A gang is considered a group of three or more people who have a unified identity, which they represent through monikers, colors, lingo and hand signals, said police.

Usually they're involved in criminal activity that serves to further the gang's power or finances.

Some of the gangs in the area are homegrown and are typically created by people who live in the same area or neighborhood. They're usually not affiliated with any nationally-known gang, said Speagle.

In other instances, recent transplants try to start a network of their gang from back home.

"They may continue with their activities here and try to recruit new members," he said.

Still, Speagle said Mooresville has seen a low level of gang activity when compared with similar communities its size.

He believes a lot of the tagging in the area may have been created by wannabes rather than confirmed gang members.

"You can get a lot of information off the Web, like graffiti symbols and lingo and dress codes," he said. "They may think it's cool to dress that way. A lot of times, its younger kids who are playing the role."

Still, Speagle said, the department has taken a proactive role in preventing the growth of gangs in the area.

Last year, the town joined the Statesville Iredell Gang Initiative, which also includes law enforcement agencies in Statesville, Troutman and the county.

The goal is to help repeat offenders become productive members of society, said Speagle.

Law enforcement agents help the offenders find jobs, get back into school and more, said Speagle.

"A lot of these people aren't bad people, they just make bad choices and run with the wrong crowd," said Speagle. "A lot of times they want a way out, but they just don't know how to do it."

Speagle said the program has been "very successful" and said he's personally seen several repeat offenders turn their lives around.

Although, the intervention program won't prevent every crime in the area, as was evident by the recent tagging on Gallo's business.

Speagle said business owners like Gallo can take proactive steps such as investing in exterior lighting to make sure their business isn't targeted.

They can also request the department increase its patrols in the area because police presence is often all that is needed to reduce crime.

"We'll certainly give them more attention as best we can," he said, adding that the department has 61 sworn officers.

If their business is tagged, owners should immediately remove the graffiti, Speagle said.

"The ultimate goal for graffiti is to further their name or whatever they're trying to do," said Speagle. "If you leave it up for six months, they've accomplished their goal because everyone is driving by and seeing their message."

Gallo and his landlord recently removed graffiti on one side of the building, a project that took half a business day.

Over the last seven years he's been in business, Gallo said repeated vandalism on his property and the recent graffiti has cost him $3,000.

"It's getting to be really costly," said Gallo. "We need more police presence at night to prevent this kind of thing."