Law enforcement is attempting to organize a multi-county force to combat an increasing gang problem in the area that’s been on the rise, especially over the last couple years, Rotary members learned recently.
Sheriff’s investigator Justin Dyar said to adequately equip local officers in combatting local gangs, they’re asking for voluntary donations on the part of local business, civic groups and others interested to equip the local department with three up-to-date armored, light-weight vests capable of repelling shots from automatic weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s.
The present vests in use at the sheriff’s office are hand-me-downs from the Bureau of Narcotics, weigh in excess of 30 pounds and are designed for protection against pistol rounds rather than high power rifles.
Dyar said those vests are designed for searching and clearing a limited area, such as the inside of a mobile home or 200 sq. ft. home, rather than the typical search following a drive by shooting, which could include approaching an automobile loaded with four suspects armed with assault rifles, where officers would be required to move quickly in a confrontation, or possibly engage in pursuit.
The lighter weight vests are 12 to 15 pounds when equipped with body armor plates, allowing officers more agility and mobility.
An attempt was made at organizing a task force involving Walthall and Pike counties a few years ago. but didn’t get far because neither agency could commit enough personnel so that manpower would be available when needed.
The latest incarnation of the task force began at the request of McComb Police Dept.’s new chief, and has attracted enough interest within law enforcement agencies and involved enough officers, 18-20 or more, so that a designated number would be available when needed.
Dyar cites an incident a couple years ago when one or two locally organized gangs began flexing their muscles, leading to a display of law enforcement personnel in both marked and unmarked cars at a Tylertown-South Pike football game after school officials got wind of a suspected confrontation.
An incident in the parking lot was quickly broken up by law enforcement after a weapon was displayed by a suspected gang member.
The Chiefs went on to win the 2021 game 22-0. Since then, the Chiefs have not played any Pike County team in football.
Gang activity has continued in the county, revolving around two groups, “10-16,” and “DOA.”
Dyar says 10-16 is the more local of the two, although both claim ties with gangs in other areas and could be tied loosely to state and even national level groups. He says the activity is moving west into other counties in the region.
Dyar says county officials have been good in recent years about equipping local law enforcement and the new county budget calls for two additional road deputies to patrol the county.
The county’s three investigators would be tasked, along with their other duties, to provide manpower for the task force.
As the vests are the prevalent need at the moment, the department has decided to ask for voluntary donations through Crimestoppers to help fund the purchases.
“We aren’t planning on a designated fundraiser right now since there are several other programs already underway including local funds being raised for medical expenses, schools have fundraisers underway, as do many churches, including the Operation Christmas Child shoebox program that many participate in. We may do one down the road, but for right now we’re taking this approach,” Dyar said.
Once the new budget goes into effect, any county budgeted funding won’t be considered for a year.
“Meantime, we think this approach can help us combat the gang threat which has spread now to all communities, both large and small,” Dyar said.
The gang mentality and thought process is difficult for average people to understand. Basically, it is a turf war between two groups for control. A group that feels it has been disrespected can fire at will on members of another gang group in retaliation. In Walthall County, which has experienced several drive-by shootings in the past few years, both injury and deaths have occurred.