Task force hopes to address growing problem in Independence.

Residents concerned about growing gang activity in Independence gathered at McCoy Park for a Citizens Alternative Crime Task Force meeting Tuesday night.

“What we’re trying to do is to gather police intelligence from the police department,” said Erin Burroughs, host for the meeting. “We would love to keep an ongoing joint effort with the police and other experts. When we’re together it’s more effective then any of us on our own.”

Sgt. Carl Perry of the Independence Police Department Crime Prevention Unit spoke at the meeting and said gangs are becoming a growing problem.

“We’re seeing more and more gang activity in the city,” he said. “At least over the last five years, a minimum of two-fold.”

Perry said gang members are coming to Independence because Kansas City has been aggressively enforcing anti-gang laws.

“Plus, the fact that families are moving here to get away from it and unbeknownst to them their kids are joining gangs,” he said.

He said Independence can fight the increasing gang problem by teaching kids not to join gangs at schools and in the home, and by stepping up prosecution and enforcement.

Gang activity has become such a problem that the Police Department hopes to start a four-year, three-officer, full-time gang unit with money from the stimulus packages. They should know sometime between now and September if they received the funds.

“Right now we see the need to have a special unit that does nothing but address gang problems,” Perry said. “We know from all aspects that we have a growing problem.”

The meeting was put on by Connie Foster, president of Citizens Alternative Crime Task Force, and her assistant, Burroughs.

“There are a lot of wonderful things that (Foster’s) planning and wants to do and this is one of the first public things she’s doing now. She has deep concern for the welfare of the people,” Burroughs said. “She’s been hearing from a lot of people how concerned they are because there’s no cohesive action. She wants to help bring that to the community.”

They hope the meeting will help conjoin the many citizen crime prevention groups.

“They’re a lot of different action groups, and we hope to create one action group. We don’t want to be fragmented, we want to do it together,” she said. “We hope to have action groups to make a difference instead of just wishing we could. Talk is fine as long as it leads to action.”