Eastern Carolina is no stranger to gang activity. According to the Governor's Crime Commission, in 2011, nearly 7,900 people affiliated themselves with gangs in our area.
Just last month, Pitt County Deputies connected an attempted armed robbery to a gang initiation. Last July, police said gang members were responsible for a deadly club shooting in Greenville.
More than 350 school administrators, parents and law enforcement officers learned how to spot the signs of gang activity and prevent it.
One of the keynote speakers, Wayne Sakamoto, at the event classifies gangs into different categories.
They can group to conduct bullying, intimidation or sexual harassment. Another category is a "copy cat" gang, which mimics the acts of established gangs. Sakamoto said for example, the Crips formed in Los Angeles years ago to beat up other youth. One group decided to stand up to the Crips. That group is now known as the Bloods.
Renee White is a social worker through Clinton City schools in Sampson County. She attended the event to improve her intervention and prevention skills.
"We are an awesome school, however we cannot ignore that we certainly have some issues with gang activity, some safety concerns, because everyone has those same kinds of issues," White said.
The keynote speaker says most school have safety programs in place. But it's about looking at the bigger picture.
"This was an opportunity to say okay, what is the state of the art in gang prevention, and on a national level, what seems to be working," said Sakamoto, Murrieta Valley school safety director in California.
Sakamoto says children can start showing interest in gang activity as early as when they're in elementary school.
"Some of the common signs, it's basically taking a look at graffiti, taking a look at even doodles that are on their papers, what they're submitting, on their backpacks, their notebooks," Sakamoto said. "It could be colors or styles of clothing as well."
He says parents and teachers should look out for symbols like five- and six-pointed stars, pitchforks, crowns or three dots in a triangle doodled on papers, children's book bags, or even on their skin.
Graffiti, tattoos or hand signs are also warnings that children may be involved or interested in gang activity.
Sakamoto says teachers and parents should keep current with the symbols, styles, and language gang members may use.
He encourages parents and teachers to keep their children and students involved in school and extracurricular activities, allow them to work with others and maintain open lines of communication. Sakamoto says what's also important is that adults should be role models, not friends.