Grant dollars help fight gangs in Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The signs are clear: gangs are still in business in Memphis. The gang fight is still a hard-fought battle for schools.

"We have to keep up our effort to prevent them from happening in our school district," Ron Pope, Student Safety Manger for Shelby County Schools, said.

Gangs are also a top priority for Memphis Police.

"It sometimes can be difficult to identify all the different gang members falling under one umbrella now. They do that for one reason, money," Memphis Police Lt. Darren Goods, who works in the Multi Agency Gang Unit, said.

To land a hard punch, fighting gangs takes money.

"The grant money allows us to send our guys to training. It allows us to equip our guys with the latest equipment," Lt. Goods said.

It's why the Memphis Metro area goes after big money in the gang fight, and there are plenty of dollars to be had.

On Your Side Investigators found the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and Shelby County Schools receive the bulk of Federal and Foundation Grant Dollars.

Schools can often become a battle ground for gang members. Gang rivals are in the same space, and what happens in the neighborhood ends up in the schools and  vice versa.

"Once gang members get into your community and start recruiting, they never stop," Pope said.

Last month, Shelby County Schools received a $4 million grant from the Department of Education to target gangs in four schools. They will get roughly $800,000 over five years.  From what the school system showed us, the bulk of it, $549,000, will go to personnel, salaries, benefits, travel and supplies.

$274,000 will be used to contract out services and outreach, and $11,000 for student transportation and informational material for parents.

It's the first major Gang Prevention Grant for Shelby County Schools.

Despite the need for more money, educators insist they're making progress.

"There is no question, crime prevention works when you have someone working with children directly," Pope said.

Memphis Police, Sheriff's deputies, and other law enforcement agencies, are fighting gangs on the ground.

"Those are the kinds of things we have to make sure we are educated enough so we can identify those new gangs, those new mobs," Goods said.

For the Multi Agency Gang Unit that WREG rode along with last year, that means money to train and pay officers overtime as they infiltrate neighborhoods and weed out gang members, even the so-called hybrid gangs like the ones from that infamous Kroger attack.

"Those guys that did that were part of the gang the Kitchen Crips," Lt. Goods said.

Over the last four years, the City of Memphis used a $4.6 million Bloomberg Grant and around $1 million in grants from the Department of Justice for a variety of gang prevention programs targeting at risk youth.  Those programs included starting the 901 Bloc Squad and sending intervention teams in to handle community tension, through hospital violence intervention.

Grant dollars also went to make apartments safer and keep gangs out, as well as to provide safe summer activities for youth.

"Grants really allow us to experience and do different things and extend our capacity in a way we could not be able to do so," City of Memphis CAO George Little said.

Even though the city and school system are fighting the same gangs, they don't do it as closely as you might think.

The city and the school system admit they don't regularly consult each other about going after grants to fight gangs, despite the fact an alliance might have more success.

"Gangs don't recognize the boundaries, so why should we? We are certainly open to seeking funding opportunities with the schools, although we have not engaged directly with them on some of these most recent grants," Little said.

Because in a fight to keep everyone safe, just as important as the dollars is the collaboration among agencies to get to those dollars.

Shelby County also uses grant dollars to supply officers and help fight gangs through the Multi Agency Gang Unit.

Memphis Mayor  A C  Wharton's office is now proposing a new line item in the city budget to go towards tackling gangs and youth violence.


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