CMS identifies 70 gangs found in schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials on Tuesday unveiled what they called their first comprehensive report on gangs, identifying about 70 gangs with 450 members in local schools.

The report included groups with such names as the Beatties Ford Bloods, the Latin Dragon Nation and the Laotian Crips.

Superintendent Peter Gorman said the school system takes the issue seriously.

“It is on people's minds,” he said, at Tuesday's school board meeting. “It's important that we don't underestimate how major a role gang activity has in our community and how it spills over into our schools.”

Board member Larry Gauvreau noted that the report identifies gangs by name, and urged expulsion of their members.

“We know where they are,” he said. “I don't want to discuss this any more. I'll wait for action.”

CMS officials who put the 40-page report together cautioned that the gangs in local schools aren't the kind of violent, organized, “notorious” gangs that plague larger cities such as Los Angeles.

The report, which analyzed five years of CMS disciplinary data, concluded that gang activity has relatively minor impact on the orderly functioning of local schools. Officials who compiled the report said only about 1 percent of the 2,300 students who face disciplinary hearings in a year are involved in gang activity.

“I'm not saying we don't have issues with gangs,” said Ralph Taylor, head of CMS's alternative education and safe schools department. “But I would question the magnitude.”

The report surfaced after board member Kaye McGarry asked for an update on gang activity in the schools. Taylor said his office had already been working on the report. He gave a copy to McGarry, and she pressed for it to be discussed publicly during the board meeting.

“This is in our schools and we're not doing enough about it,” she said. “Acknowledging it and confronting it – that's the first step in doing anything about it.”

But George Dunlap said much of the information in the report isn't new, and had been released piecemeal to school board members over the years. He also questioned some of the data in it.

He pointed, for instance, to school-by-school data that tracked violations of a CMS policy against displaying gang colors or flashing gang hand signals. Most middle and high schools reported fewer than ten offenses per year, but Eastway Middle reported 23 in one year, and West Mecklenburg High reported 46 in another.

Dunlap suggested such discrepancies might reflect differences in the way schools enforce the anti-gang policy, rather than differences in actual gang activity. Taylor said the two schools have had issues with gangs over the years.

“I don't want us to throw out this big fear thing, like, ‘Oh my God we've got all these gangs,' ” Dunlap said. “I just think this thing needs to be done in the right context.”

Board member Tom Tate asked Gorman and his staff if they needed anything else to keep CMS's gang problem from growing. The superintendent said he wanted to take some time to think it through.

Bud Cesena, head of CMS's law enforcement agency, said he suspects not all gang-related activity made it into the report. He said in one instance, adult gang members went to Independence High School trying to recruit students.

He said a new state law that takes effect in December will bring tougher penalties against gang activity. New Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe's pledge to beef up his agency's gang unit will also help, Cesena said.