EUGENE, Ore. — Local organizations said despite popular belief, gangs are an issue in Lane County. A symposium was held Saturday on that very issue. Organizers said this is just the beginning of their efforts to combat, what they say, is a growing problem in Lane County. Their hope is to establish a shared understanding of an issue that is largely misunderstood.
More than 250 members from the county gathered at Lane Community College’s Center for Meeting and Learning Saturday morning. While they all came from different backgrounds, they had one common goal.
“Today is an opportunity for us to take the next step, to begin the planning on how we can address the issues around gang impact,” said the Juvenile Justice Center’s Assistant Manager, John Aarons.
Several speakers got up to highlight what they say are the many misconceptions surrounding gang culture. Statistics compiled over the last few months from specialists at the Eugene Police Department aimed to open many eyes to the reality of the problem. Those numbers revealed that more than half of the county’s gang members are made up of youth, ages 14 to 24. Reports also showed that 78% of the kids that entered the juvenile system ended up in the adult system.
“Gangs have a way of reinforcing a cycle or lifestyle of crime that is very difficult to get out of and it’s very expensive to get them out of that cycle,” said Chief Pete Kerns of the Eugene Police Department.
Ultimately, the goal of the event is to garner the community support needed to find a solution.
“The origins of gang membership are complex. They’re developed over many years and they have to do with families, schools and community. That’s where the problem starts and that’s where the solution lies,” said University of Oregon Professor of Family and Human Services, Kevin Alltucker.
And experts said addressing the root of the problem, the community, is where they might need to start.
“Our hope is to find some champions. And champions are going to come from community members, from professionals that have an interest in impacting the kinds of things that will help increase the health and safety of our community,” said Aarons.
Another symposium is scheduled for April.