KINSTON, LENOIR COUNTY -

The Kinston Public Safety Department's Gang Unit is being honored for its crime-fighting efforts by the state as “Gang Unit of the Year”. The department's gang unit has made at least 163 arrests and seized 19 guns since it grew from two to six people in July.

Gang Unit Supervisor Sgt. Stephen Reavis said the biggest difference in having a bigger gang unit is that they're able to spend more time in the community.

In the last 53 days since their expansion they've talked to at least 233 people living in the area. He said building relationships and trust in the community is crucial to investigating crimes.    

"We want to be in the neighborhood two weeks and two days before a shooting not two minutes after a shooting,” Sgt. Reavis said.

He said most violent crimes are gang related and that Kinston has at least 26 active gangs. From January to June there were 25 shootings in Kinston, according to KPSD Director Bill Johnson.

Since the gang unit expanded on July 7th, just five people have been shot. Sgt. Reavis said two of those people had been shot earlier in the year.

It takes at least three people to make up a gang, according to the unit. The unit uses a check list to determine whether an individual is a gang member. If they check off three or more things on the list such as wearing gang colors, using hand signals, or even admitting they're in a gang then they're considered a validated gang member to the unit.

The unit's plan to combat gangs is a three step system. Gang unit supervisor Sgt. Dennis Taylor said prevention is key. He visits schools several times a week to raise gang violence awareness.

“If we can impact the younger kids now we're hoping that it will prevent them from future violent crimes or gang behavior in the future,” Sgt. Taylor said.

The next step is intervention. Sgt. Reavis said they'll step in if they see an active gang member

"We call them in and just tell them, ‘Hey we know you're involved in gang activity’ and we offer them ways to get out," Sgt. Reavis said.

If things don't change, suppression is the final step. Over the past 50 days the unit said they’ve talked to 138 validated gang members in the community and confirmed 90 more people as gang members.

Sgt. Reavis said working with other agencies such as Lenoir County Sheriff's Office also helps cover more ground.

"One of the benefits with working with other agencies is we are able to avoid jurisdictional boundaries. Our gang members they certainly don't have jurisdictional boundarie," Sgt. Reavis said.

City council will recognize the unit for being awarded "Gang Unit of the Year" Tuesday around 5 p.m. in front of the Kinston Public Safety Department.