August 28, 2007
Public Information Officer
Gang activity is on the rise virtually across the country, and Central Florida is no different. Here in Volusia County, in just the last few years, more than 350 gang members and 49 active gangs have been documented. Any law enforcement officer will tell you that close monitoring, zero tolerance and strict enforcement are the keys to combating gang-related crime and violence. Fortunately, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has a Gang Unit that’s up to the task. In fact, the Gang Unit has been so effective that it recently earned the Gang Unit of the Year Award for the state of Florida. “Gang activity is a concern everywhere,” said Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson. “I’m very proud of our Gang Unit and the proactive steps it’s taking to combat the problem. The deputies in our Unit are among the most knowledgeable around, and this award confirms that our gang suppression efforts are on the right track.”
The Gang Unit is housed within the agency’s Crime Suppression Team and also includes the resources of two additional deputies in Deltona who specialize in gang abatement. The Crime Suppression Team is a deputy strike force of sorts that roams the county to saturate crime hot spots, and gang suppression efforts over the years have become a major focus of the team. The team’s Gang Unit has stepped up efforts to document gang activity and educate the community on ways to combat the problem. The Gang Unit has developed a comprehensive database to help law enforcement investigate suspected gang activity and document gang members and gang symbols. The Unit has organized graffiti paint-overs -- some of them on deputies’ personal time -- and also has provided educational instruction to the rest of the Sheriff’s Office as well as the School District and other agencies within the criminal justice system in order to better identify the scope of the problem. The Gang Unit also has provided information it compiles to prosecutors and juvenile judges so gang members can be identified and assessed with enhanced criminal penalties when allowed by law.
Additionally, the intelligence data collected by the Gang Unit has been invaluable in numerous criminal investigations. For instance, in the 2005 beating death of a homeless man, investigators initially had just nicknames to go on. The Gang Unit was able to connect the nicknames to real names, which helped investigators quickly round up the four teenage suspects who were later arrested and convicted. The Gang Unit also helped provide critical information during the Deltona mass murder case, in which the convicted ringleader was reported to be in a gang. Still, despite the growing number of documented gang members, serious gang-related crime and violence in Volusia County has been rare. And officials say the Sheriff’s Office’s Gang Unit is having a noticeable impact on suppressing gang activity. “The dedication of these deputies goes beyond the 40-hour work week,” wrote the Crime Suppression Team’s supervisor, Sergeant Thomas Dane, in a letter nominating the Unit for the statewide award. “It is without a doubt that the dedication of these deputies has made a strong impact on the gang problem in Volusia County, and without them it would be a lot worse.”
The Florida Gang Investigators Association obviously agreed, bestowing its Gang Unit of the Year Award on the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. The award was presented to the unit during the association’s annual conference in Orlando earlier this month. The association is composed of criminal justice professionals who share information regarding gang activity across the state and work together on strategies to suppress gang activity. Past recipients of the statewide award include the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in 2003 and 2004, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in 2005 and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office in 2006. The award is designed to recognize law enforcement agencies that have implemented successful gang enforcement strategies.
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
Non-emergency dispatch numbers: DeLand 386-943-8276 Daytona Beach 386-239-8276 New Smyrna Beach 386-409-8276 Osteen 407-323-0151