CARING IN THE COMMUNITY: Deputy tries to cut gang influence in Durham
The Herald-Sun takes a look at the triumphs and challenges facing nonprofit organizations and agencies tackling some of Durham’s most pressing social issues – homelessness, mental illness and gang violence.
Detective Elliott Hoskins worries that Durham could lose a large chunk of its youngsters to gangs unless more people step up and try to stem the tide.
Hoskins is doing his part, and more.
As the Durham County sheriff’s gang intelligence deputy, he collects information about gang activity, and donates much of his off-duty time talking to children about the pitfalls of gang life.
“The intelligence gives us a picture of what to look for and expect, what areas gangs have targeted and what gangs are active in what areas,” Hoskins said.
In Durham, “we’re seeing a tremendous influx of Bloods and Hispanic gangs. Many Bloods are homegrown, while others come from outside the county,” he said.
Hoskins said Bloods are Durham’s largest gang, although exact figures are hard to come by.
But Hoskins sees their influence.
“When we have gang violence, you can say that the Bloods participate in their share,” he said. “I’m not sure that any of us know the exact number, because they fluctuate so much.”
The typical gang member is 11 to 21 years old and trying to fill a void in their lives, he said.
“Looking for a family dynamic is part of why they join,” he said. “Some kids are looking for something to do. Some like the excitement of it, or they want to belong. And some do it because they think it’s cool to run from the police and shoot at people.”
Hoskins said it’s hard to measure success, because when someone drops out of a gang, he doesn’t always know.
The main way he tries to put a dent in gangs is through education. He talks to children in schools, churches, boys and girls clubs and summer programs.
“If something isn’t done, we’re looking at losing an entire generation to something that I believe society could have done more about,” he said.
What can citizens do?
His answer: Help a child.
“When I grew up, there was a larger sense of community,” Hoskins said. “Everyone looked out for everyone else – not just their own family. And now it seems like this new technological age has separated communities.”
Hoskins said officers “can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” so what’s needed is a combination of law enforcement, social programs and education.
“We need to look at every child as if he is ours, and do whatever we can,” he said. “Whatever you can do to assist a child will reap dividends down the road – maybe not right now. We’re going to lose some children. But our goal is to lose as few as possible.”