Are gangs in East Orlando worse than anywhere else in Orange County? The answer may surprise you. Last year it was reported in a local publication that East Orlando had the highest concentration of gang activity in Orange County. However, David Spall, sergeant of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit, says that statistic was taken out of context; and although the east side of Orange County may have the highest concentration of crime, but it also has the highest population.
“That’s also our most populous area of the county as well, so you figure in the per capita percentages and there’s no more to worry about there as opposed to anywhere else within the county or the state,” he says. “You’re going to run into more gang members on the east side of Orange County because more people live on the east side of Orange County.”
He goes on to say that the gang problem in Orange County as a whole is very prevalent when compared with national trends and averages per capita.
“Orange County is actually, has a pretty good hold on the gang activity and the gang problem so to speak as far as dealing with them within the county,” Spall says.
If you do suspect gang activity in your area, Spall advises you to pick up the phone and give the Sheriff’s office a call so they can decide at their discretion what is and what isn’t a threat to the community. Rest assured, the office would much rather have the call then not, he points out.
What if you see gang graffiti? Be sure to report the graffiti as early as possible so it can be painted over and recorded as evidence. Spall says the unit can solve crimes by studying the graffiti, and can learn which gangs are warring with one another by how the area is tagged.
Community involvement in conjunction with staying involved in the lives of those close to you is also crucial. As far as gang involvement, Spall says it all starts in the home. Gang members prey on those lacking a strong family unit.
“The frustrating part is seeing good, young kids that gravitate towards those groups. You see the young kids make that poor choice to go into a gang or to start affiliating with a gang; and once you start, it’s very, very hard to get away from,” Spall says.
According to him, youth can begin becoming influenced by gangs as young as ten to 12 years of age; however the largest group ranges from about 18-39 years of age.
Spall stresses that the Orange County’s gang unit is not merely a reactive unit, but a proactive one, trying to stop gangs in their earliest stages of formation before they can establish themselves in the community.
“We have it very good here and that’s because the Sheriff’s Office, Orlando Police Department and other agencies that surround us, such as Seminole, Osceola, Lake and Polk [law enforcement divisions] dedicate their resources to it,” says Spall. “The worst thing that a community can do, or the worst thing that can happen is you don’t start dedicating people to it until it’s too late,” Spall says.
Article by Jessica Inman
To report any suspected gang activity in Orange County call 407-521-2400 or visit www.OCSO.com.