Local law enforcement leaders discuss prevalence of gang problems in area

Published 11:46 pm Saturday, June 24, 2017

By Cain Madden and David Hamilton

NATCHEZ — While Natchez Police Department leaders say they do not deny gangs exist in the community, they downplayed the extent to which gangs affect the community. On the other hand, Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten attributes much of the violent crime and drug problem of Natchez to gangs.

Interim Chief of Police Shawn King said gang activity is nowhere near as widespread compared to its heyday in Natchez.

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“It’s just not as prevalent as it was in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” King said.

Police Capt. Tom McGehee, one of the “gang experts” on the force, agreed with King. McGehee said he used to see buildings riddled with gang markings, but that is not the case now.

“We’re not seeing as much graffiti now,” McGehee said. “There are no displays.”

Patten said during his more than 15 years in law enforcement in the area gangs have been a problem. The gangs are neighborhood gangs rather than larger territorial gangs, he said, but Natchez’s gangs are from branches of major gangs such as the Bloods, the Crips, the Black Gangster Disciples and the Latin Kings.

“I think there has been a gang issue here for a long time,” Patten said. “People have kind of blown it off or refused to acknowledge it.”

While police admit that gang activity is still a problem to an extent, the officers said the type of gang activity that occurs in Natchez is unorganized. McGehee called them “wannabes,” while King chalked up most of the activity to kids just looking to get into trouble.

King and McGehee, however, did suggest that gang members should not be prodded. Despite saying gang activity is relatively stagnant, the officers think gang members could potentially ramp up their activity if they are not taken seriously.

“(Gangs) might see that we’re saying there’s no graffiti and say ‘Oh yeah? We’ll show you.” King said. “These guys want to prove themselves.”

Patten said Natchez area gangs are driven by drugs and other quick money making schemes, though Patten said he would not suggest all area burglaries are gang-related, but rather the work of opportunistic thieves.

“You can see by the number of lives they are taking, they are quick to pull the trigger,” Patten said. “If you look at reports, in both the city and the county, you will see shots fired all throughout.

“They have moved away from communicating their way through their problems or fist fighting and straight into shooting now.”

Patten said he would not call them “wannabes.”

“We don’t help it none when we begin to call these people fake gangsters because Natchez is not a big city,” Patten said. “When you do that as a citizen in the community, you are adding fuel to the fire.

“You are challenging their manhood or womanhood and they will go out and prove themselves to the naysayers, and they have become desensitized to the value of a life.”

Patten said local gang members would kill in a heartbeat.

“They are not thinking about what will happen down the road, the consequences of taking a life and how many lives they are affecting, including themselves and the lives of their family,” Patten said. “It is an issue that has been bred into them over the last couple of generations.

“It is going to take us as a community to work on our own families, friends and relatives, to try to break that down. There is more to life than a gun if everything doesn’t go your way.”

The shootings and murders are not for walking in the wrong neighborhood, Patten said.

“Most are drug related or personal vendettas,” Patten said. “The average person can pretty much ride into any neighborhood here and not get shot at.

“While bullets don’t have a name on them, they are targeting specific people. They know who they want to shoot.”

Patten also said he would not agree that the gangs in Natchez are unorganized. Patten said they are structured, as the larger gangs, based out of Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston as some examples, will branch out to rural areas where they can attempt to hide or make money.

On the streets, they are structured like the military, with street soldiers, lieutenants and on up, Patten said. Patten said he could not say if someone in Chicago, as an example, are in charge of local gang members.

“They get their supplies from out of state like that, but I can’t say for sure whether people out of town are calling the shots,” Patten said. “We have got enough shot callers here without reaching out of town.”

Someone on the neighborhood level calls the shots, Patten said.

“You have certain people over certain turfs calling the shots,” Patten said. “For example, out in Broadmoor you have certain individuals out there and if they go and tell someone younger to go shoot a person over there, they will go do it. It’s almost like they have the youngsters brainwashed.”

Patten said the older gangsters have gone to prison, which on the streets they call college.

“The intent of prison was for people to go in, get reformed and come back out and be productive citizens,” Patten said. “In most cases, that is not what is happening. They are going in and honing their skills and learning how to become sharp at what they do.”

The older gangsters come out of prison higher up in the gang hierarchy and they become shot callers, Patten said.

“They have learned the psychology to a T,” Patten said. “Now, just because of the clout and respect they got while in prison, a younger gangster will go commit murder, a robbery or a home invasion, all based on what the shot caller is telling them to go do.”

Patten said the sheriff’s office could do a better job fighting the gangs, but it would take people in the community feeding information. Patten said people become scared of the repercussions of informing, and the gangsters themselves are unlikely to cooperate.

“A lot of people would rather handle the problems themselves,” Patten said. “People out there know or have seen something, but they are scared to say something. That’s why we created the tip411 app where you can remain anonymous. We won’t know who you are.

“If you give us information, no matter if it is in person, a phone call or whether it is the tip411 app, we can make the community a lot safer.”

On the Adams County Sheriff’s Office website, www.adamscosheriff.org, you can sign up for the tipp411 service.

In his more than a year as sheriff, Patten said he is working on changing how deputies do their business.

“When we work cases, we have to show people we can be trusted with information and believe we are going to act on it,” Patten said. “We have to build a rapport. We have got to build a relationship.”