Gang activity up in county

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By Jenny Hartley

Bullets are flying in city neighborhoods, and the Lancaster Police Department has formed a crime suppression unit to battle the problem.

The police department is working with the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office, State Law Enforcement Division and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to get guns and those who are using them recklessly off the streets, Police Chief Hugh White said.

The police department has responded to 102 calls about shootings or shots fired from April through September, said Capt. Harlean Howard. The activity is spread out through several neighborhoods in the city. The people who are shooting are also going back and forth between neighborhoods in the city and the county.

"That's why we have to work together to stop them," said Lancaster County Sheriff's Office Maj. Barry Faile.

Concerned residents are afraid in their own neighborhoods.

"These are good, law-abiding citizens who are afraid to go out at night or sit on their porches for fear of being hit by a stray bullet or being assaulted," White said. "They shouldn't have to feel trapped in their own homes."

In a recent incident on Hughes Street, a man's vehicle was shot several times by an assault rifle. White said it looked like the car had been through a war zone after the shooting.

In many cases, no one is hit by the gunfire, but officers fear for those who may become innocent victims.

A bullet doesn't have a conscience, White said. An innocent person or a child could be hit. God forbid, anything like that happens.

Police recently found where 11 shots had been fired on a city street, but no one called the police, Howard said. She fears some residents have become conditioned to hearing gunfire in their neighborhoods.

We don't want it to become the norm, Howard said.

Police have arrested several people in a two-week effort by the crime suppression unit so far. Officers are networking with sheriff's deputies, communities and schools for information. They're mapping the areas where the shootings have occurred.

Thirteen guns, including an assault rifle, have been taken off the streets. Some of the guns have been reported stolen in Lancaster, Charlotte, Rock Hill and Florence.

White and Howard say many of the recent shootings involve rival gangs. At least three or four gangs have been identified in the city.

Faile said the county is also seeing an increase in gang activity.

"There are some people who don't believe we have a gang problem in Lancaster County," White said. "I wish they were right."

The crime suppression unit is continuing its work, White said. Shifts have been reorganized and schedules adapted to hold down overtime as patrol officers and investigators alike work the special assignment.

Residents are reminded that they do not need to give their names to report shootings or other information to police. Officers do not need to go to the caller's home. Howard reminds residents to try to get a description of the assailants or vehicles involved in shootings.

"We want the citizens to know we're doing everything we can to help," White said. "We want to help them take back their neighborhoods."

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151