WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – When leaders in the city of Wilmington discussed banning validated gang members from public parks, they wanted to know what makes someone validated and how is it done.
Anyone from neighbors and relatives to officers on the street can suggest Wilmington Police investigate an individual as a suspected gang member. The initial tip does not mean validation, according to Officer Jonathan Poplin.
"We don't want to waste time validating someone that's not a gang member because we have so many people out here," he said. "We've got plenty of work to do."
That work consists of a validation checklist of 12 factors like tattoos, clothing or even openly admitting to being a gang member.
During city council's consideration of the ban on parks, several members mentioned the need to share with the community that the process is not profiling.
"Either you have the criteria or you don't," said Poplin. "There is no benefit to us as a department, or as a community, to validate people who are not gang members."
The NC Department of Public Safety recommends police verify two factors in order to validate. Poplin said that's not enough for WPD, so investigators confirm three.
"If they're involved in that kind of activity," he said. "It's pretty simple to find three."
There are 323 validated gang members in New Hanover County. A surge of crime in recent months, which police attribute to gangs, has kept Poplin and his fellow officers on the streets more than usual.
"A high majority of the violent crimes that are committed in the city, robberies and murders, are gang related," he said.
All the activity means investigators are away from the office. Without a clerical staff to fill out the forms that go along with validation, there are 114 people pending in the process. Poplin estimates there are more than twice that number still outside of their investigation.
"We got enough gang members that we can validate all day long and we're not going to run out," he said.
Wilmington City Council will revisit an updated version of the gang ban on public parks at a future meeting.
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