For the second week of the Sheriff’s Citizens Academy last Thursday, Sheriff Tommy Allen welcomed FBI representative Mike Gregory and SBI representative Stephen Thomas. (The planned tour of the current 911 Center was cancelled due to the poor weather.)
Gregory talked to the class about the role and history of the FBI When speaking of leaders, he focused particularly on former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. “He shaped the FBI into what it is today,” Gregory said. “A lot of the way it is now is due to the precedences he set.”
Hoover helped to increase public awareness of the FBI, Gregory said. “He also projected our image to the public, because we’re only as successful as the public will let us be,” Gregory said. “He believed we could succeed if we got our name out there, and he was right.”
The FBI was created to conduct espionage during World War II but has grown, Gregory said. With its success, the bureau has grown to about 35,903 employees (as of May 30, 2013), 56 field offices centrally located in major metropolitan areas across the nation and Puerto Rico, and over 70 legal attache (called legats) and suboffice locations worldwide.
Gregory said that the FBI is flexible and changes to meet the needs of the times. Over the years, the FBI has been able to enforce a growing number of laws. “It all came to a head Sept. 11, 2001,” he said. Historically, the FBI has focused on mafia, gang activity, drug removal, etc.
“Terrorism was maybe second in our mind,” Gregory said. “We had to shift to protecting against terrorism. Obviously now, we’re having to protect cyber-security. The times change us.”
Thomas spoke to the class about gangs, focusing particularly on ones that may have a presence in or around Anson County. Allen said that this segment on gangs was a new part that has never been taught as part of the academy.
While Anson doesn’t have some of the larger gangs that plague bigger cities, there are some “wanna-bes,” according to Allen. “We have a lot of wanna-be gangs in Anson. They’re not the real bad gangs, they’re wanna-bes,” he said. “Sometimes they can be more dangerous because of not having structure.”
Thomas said “wanna-bes” can also be more dangerous because the members are out to get a name and “prove” themselves. The trouble with that is,”there are plenty of groups that want to look the part but not act the part,” Thomas said. “They want to look cool. But what they have to careful of is that they may have to cash that check one day.”
Some of the identifying markers of gangs were also explained. Colors, symbols, sports logos and numbers in graffiti, clothing, tattoos and more can all be markers of gang activity. For example, Thomas said that while students may want to wear a colored bandanna to reflect their preferred gang’s colors, the schools ban them, so students may color the inside of their pockets. “Around teachers and other adults, they look normal,” he said. “But when they are around their friends, they may pull their pockets out to show ‘their’ colors.”
One common factor was that the gangs had to start somewhere, even if it was a small beginning, “A common denominator with a lot of these gangs is that they started with smaller crimes,” Thomas said. “Stifle it early.” He said this can be difficult, since children are exposed to that culture every day. “Lil Wayne claims to be a Blood and wears a lot of red, and our kids are looking up to him,” he said. “I remember when I was growing up and liked Snoop Dogg, who claims to be a Crip.”
Thomas warned the class to be watchful for gang activity, but not to jump to conclusions. “Some things have infiltrated our culture so much that people will use terms that were rooted in gangs but don’t necessarily mean that now if kids say it today.”
This week, the class will hear from SBI District Supervisor Tony Underwood and from the candidates for the office of sheriff. It will also learn about fingerprinting.