'Gang Safety Zone' cleans up crime in South Memphis neighborhood

'Gang Safety Zone' cleans up crime in South Memphis neighborhood

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A local gang was destroying a Mid-South community. Neighbors were forced to hide in their homes to avoid flying bullets. (Source: WMC Acton News 5) A local gang was destroying a Mid-South community. Neighbors were forced to hide in their homes to avoid flying bullets. (Source: WMC Acton News 5)
The court-ordered injunction established the first gang safety zone, which is bounded by South Parkway to the north, Florida Street to the east, West Mallory Avenue to the south, and Interstate 55 to the west. (Source: Pathfinder) The court-ordered injunction established the first gang safety zone, which is bounded by South Parkway to the north, Florida Street to the east, West Mallory Avenue to the south, and Interstate 55 to the west. (Source: Pathfinder)
SOUTH MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC) - As your head hits the pillow tonight, think about this: right now, in some Memphis neighborhoods, families are sleeping on the floor to avoid being hit by gunfire from outside.

For some ... their neighborhood is a war zone where gang members outnumber the good guys.

Things got so bad in one South Memphis neighborhood that police officers had to throw out the old rule book and come up with a new TAG Team approach to stop the violence.

Mary Bain was born and raised in the South Memphis community known as Riverside. She and others share a lot of happy memories.

"From my childhood, it was the most beautiful place to be," she said.

Rosie Harris agreed, "We were always out doing something. We would be in the street playing ball, skating."

"There was a time you could leave your home an didn't lock the door, you know?" Tommie Evans added.

But in the past few years, Riverside has become a gang-infested danger zone.

"You couldn't even drive down the street in this neighborhood without getting shot," Bain said.

At home, neighbors slept on floors and in bathtubs to avoid being hit by bullets from the outside.

"If you hear the shooting in the back of the house, you had to go back to the front of the house to lay on the floor," explained Bain. "And some time you just lay in the middle of the house and pray."

Pastor James Kendrick opened Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church to help residents and law enforcement zero in on the problem.

"People deserve a better life," he said. "It was because of this one little, primarily this one gang, the Rolling 90s."

Lieutenant Darren Goods with the multi-agency gang unit says the Riverside Rolling 90s Crips forced a new approach to fighting crime.

"How do we think outside the box? You know, what tools can we use other than just heavy-handed law enforcement tactics to deal with these gang members?" asked Lt. Goods.

Investigators hit the streets and used a crime-fighting tactic called the TAG system. It stands for Tracking an Active Gang, which helped officers create a database of more than 40 Rolling Crips members.

For a photo gallery of a few of the gang's members and their nicknames, click here: http://www.wmcactionnews5.com/slideshow?widgetid=118558&clienttype=generic&mobilecgbypass 

That information helped the gang unit build its case for a brand new law that has never been used to fight gang activity -- until now.

The court-ordered injunction declares the Rolling 90s Crips a public nuisance and bans them from the neighborhood. It also established the first gang safety zone, which is bounded by South Parkway to the north, Florida Street to the east, West Mallory Avenue to the south, and Interstate 55 to the west.

"If they are caught associating with each other in public, they go to jail," Lt. Goods explained.

Dozens of gang members were served a summons to appear in court. Now, they can be arrested for something as simple as congregating outside and drinking a beer.

There is still a lot of work to be done in the gang safety zone, but since the injunction was put into place in September 2013, investigators have already seen a drastic reduction in crimes in the zone.

Narcotics felonies are down 45 percent.

There was a 70 percent reduction in robbery calls and a 37.5 percent reduction in weapons violations compared to the previous year.

Just last month, Demarco Ward and Andrew Bowie were arrested for standing under the carport of a vacant home.

Patrick DeWayne Miller was arrested for loitering and trying to pass counterfeit cash at a store in the gang safety zone.

"We can see the sun peaking through the clouds already because of the efforts that are set forth here," said Pastor Kendrick.

"Quality of life for the people living here has drastically improved because of this," Lt. Goods added.

Pushing gang members out of Riverside will not solve the gang problem throughout the city, but that is why investigators are already compiling data for where additional zones can be set up.

"This could be a good learning tool for them because if this kind of thing takes place, not only here but in other areas, soon you'll find out you'll run out of places to live," Lt. Goods explained.

The Rolling 90s Crips can come back to Riverside under one condition.

"Do something that's gonna help your community not destroy it," said Goods.

Depending on their criminal history, some of the arrested gang members will be sentenced to perform community service in their own neighborhood.

To read the court-ordered injunction about the gang safety zone, click here: http://ftpcontent4.worldnow.com/wmctv/gangsafezone.pdf 

If you think your neighborhood should be declared a "gang safety zone," here is what Vince Higgins, communications director for the Shelby County district attorney general, advises: 

"Memphis & Shelby County Citizens interested in reporting gang complaints/activity should contact 901-222-4264.

The process of identifying a safety zone involves in-depth investigations into specific gang activities, criminal incidents. MGU agents then work to determine to what extent a criminal gang and its members are involved.

That is the reason it is so very important for citizens to report crime incidents to local police authorities.

The MGU investigation into the reported activities and crimes could then lead to a gang injunction/safety zone."

Copyright 2014 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved. 

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