The Macon Police Department's Gang Investigations Unit says overall, gang-related crimes are down in Macon, but they also explain that local gangs don't necessarily fit the stereotypical profile.
While discussion of gangs conjures up images of large groups of youth and young adults branded by colors and symbols, police say Macon's groups are generally smaller, less organized, and have no affiliation to national organizations found in cities like Los Angeles or Chicago.
That's why it's important for Sgt. Cedric Penson and Sgt. Chuck Whitaker, the department's gang investigators, to make a presence in the communities.
They say groups are often organized around a street or a school; they refer to these as hybrid gangs.
As gang investigators, Penson and Whitaker look into any crime they believe may have gang connections.
They've also built expertise on what gangs look for in a potential recruit. Evidence suggests young people who need a sense of belonging or feel like social outcasts are often prime targets.
Sgt. Tim James, also with the Macon Police Department, assists the agency on the outreach end.
He ventures into schools and churches, talking directly to youth in gang-prone areas.
Sgt. James offers parents the following warning signs that their children may be in trouble:
1. Grades suddenly fall.
2. The child or teen pulls away from his or her family.
3. Friends aren't introduced to the family.
4. The youth is away from home more often or out later and later.
5. Parents find graffiti or unusual symbols and numbers drawn on belongings.
6. A pattern develops in the type of clothes the teen wears.
Open communication is the single best way to prevent teens from falling into gangs, Sgt. James says. He explains that youth who feel like parents are listening, are less likely to seek attention in the wrong places.