Gangs drawn to higher drug prices on Outer Banks
Following two weeks in which rumors circulated about a huge gang-related fight at the 7-Eleven in Kill Devil Hills, which was confirmed, and another altercation at a nightspot in Kitty Hawk, which has not been confirmed by police, the timing for such a program seemed appropriate.
As the Voice reported in an earlier story, police are seeing an increase in gang-related activity locally.
But the Thin Blue Line must walk some fine lines where gang activity is concerned.
Sgt. Brandon Henderson and Det. R.D. Johnson took great care to remind the crowd that local gang activity is nowhere near the level of areas like New York, Norfolk or even Elizabeth City. And they were careful not to overstate the presence of gangs locally.
During a portion of the program on helping parents, employers and others learn to identify gang signs by clothing, colors, tattoos and graffiti, the officers explained the difficulty in separating actual members from “fantasy” followers — young people who merely emulate the colors and graffiti.
Groups on the Outer Banks run the gamut from organized Russian crime to white supremacist groups, “Bloods” and “Crips” and even a handful of hardcore motorcycle gang members.
The attraction to gangs is what police described as the “bridge tax,” a higher retail price for drugs sold in Dare County than in surrounding areas.
For example, a gram of cocaine sells for $70 in Elizabeth City and $110 in Dare County. An ounce brings $1,960 in Elizabeth City but yields $3,080 here. A kilo of the drug nets $70,000 in Pasquotank, but brings $110,000 on the beach.
Henderson described the gang infiltration as analogous to a fast-food chain exploring a new market.
Gang “sets,” local gangs affiliated with one of the larger, national gangs in other areas, send scouts to Dare. They explore the potential market, locate restaurants and nightspots where sales can take place and recruit low-level users to network within the community.
Henderson described previous local drug dealers as “old school” and said the arrival of gangs was akin to a “hostile takeover” of the local market.
Because of pressure from Elizabeth City law enforcement and the lucrative drug market in Dare, gang members, including a high-ranking “three-star general” from one of the Blood’s “sets,” have taken up residence locally.
While this came as a surprise to the older members of the crowd, parents of teens who were in attendance stated their children were already aware of the gang presence, including the “three-star.”
All of which pointed to the reason law enforcement is holding these public meetings and encouraging parents, employers and teachers to communicate with the youth and be aware of the gang signs.
One officer mentioned walking through a local business and seeing gang tattoos and gang logos on an employee’s sneakers — signs most of us would not relate to gang affiliations.
The Department of Corrections has identified a number of gang members who have passed through their facilities and have begun to build a database of their findings.
In a five-county area that includes Dare, Currituck, Camden, Hyde and Tyrell counties, 44 percent of gang members tracked through the prison system have come from Dare County (no raw numbers were provided).
Several members of the crowd suggested local police needed more personnel to combat the emerging threat.
Both officers turned those questions back, stating they felt comfortable with current staffing levels and their ability to handle the nascent gang presence here.
What the police need, Henderson noted, is more awareness among the general population of what constitutes gang activity so that information can be passed along to the police.
“Fifty of you in this room, once educated, can do far, far more” than one extra police officer, Henderson noted.
Although no actual numbers of total gang membership in Dare was provided, police estimated there were probably 30 to 40 “regulars” who are now active locally.
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