WMBF News Investigates: Fighting gangs in schools - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

WMBF News Investigates: Fighting gangs in schools

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A continuing WMBF News Investigation into Horry County’s gang problem shows the fight against gangs in our area is not only out on the streets, but also in the classrooms.

The Horry County Solicitor’s Office launched a new campaign on Wednesday called Project LEAD, which targets 5th graders or students about 10 years old.

Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson and Police will be the first to admit the gang issue in our area can be traced back to children as young as nine or ten years old. While this might not be the age they get directly involved in crimes, it is when a journey down the wrong path can start.

“If you're not a teacher or you don't work in the court system it would shock a lot of people how young kids become acclimated to bad things,” Solicitor Richardson said.

That reason, along with a number of crimes, including murders involving young people in the county, sent Richardson looking for new ways to bring an end to the violence. His search led him to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and to the Project LEAD program.

For more than 20 years, the program has been giving students a chance to have a better understanding of how the choices they make today could have a drastic impact on their lives forever.

Starting each school year in the fall, attorneys and investigators spend an hour at schools for 20 weeks teaching 5th graders about the criminal justice system.

“It's more than gangs, it's more than drugs, there's lessons on truancy civil government all sort of fun activities for them to go through and I think they'll get a kick out of it, in some ways it changes the culture,” Solicitor Richardson explained.

Solicitor Richardson and Conway Elementary officially launched the Project LEAD pilot program in Horry County Wednesday afternoon.

With more than 100 5th graders participating in the program, Conway Elementary Principal Mcquitta Davis said she knew immediately what Project LEAD could do for her school.

“I think it's very important, I think it's an honor and will be personable for the students where they are actually seeing a person who is in the criminal justice system who helps make decisions for our county to make it one on one for those students,” Principal Davis expressed.

Even though the program is aimed at young students, Davis said the program will also help parents guide their own children past elementary school all the way through high school.

“It's going to support their child that it's going to make them aware and provide them with information and help them as well as parents make decisions and have those courageous conversations with their child,” Principal Davis said.

The ultimate goal is to take Project LEAD beyond the pilot program at Conway Elementary and put it into six, seven, maybe eight schools as early as next year.

Solicitor Richardson said he hopes one day all elementary schools in Horry County will be using it.

While Project LEAD isn’t the last step in combatting Horry County’s gang problem, Solicitor Richardson stresses it’s just as important as fighting crime on the street level because students need to know their lives can change with just one decision; a split second choice could send them to prison for years.

Copyright 2015 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

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