Local law enforcement, along with officers from across the state, heard from guest speakers and shared information about dealing with different types of gangs at the Kansas Gang Investigators Association (KGIA) Conference, held at The Clarion Inn, 1911 E. Kansas Ave.
Tim McClure, vice president of KGIA, said that the conference, which took place from Tuesday through Friday, is designed to both inform and provide networking opportunities to officers.
"Everything we do has some gang nexus to it, whether it's a class on gang intervention and prevention or if it's a class on gang investigation techniques or we also deal a little bit into some of the sociology and ideology of the gangs," McClure said.
McClure said that one of the most important aspects of the conferences, which are held at different locations every year, is to provide networking opportunities.
"Our gangs are traveling from city to city. You know, I'm from Dodge City and lots of times we see Dodge City gangs in Garden and Garden City gangs in Dodge, so it's a valuable tool to come in here and talk to these officers, and get to meet them and know who to call," he said, in reference to gangs.
McClure said that officers from Kansas City and other parts of the state attend the conference, as well.
Garden City Police Detective Clint Brock was on hand along with other local law enforcement officials, and said that on Monday, Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for the district of Kansas, and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt made a presentation regarding new laws that are in the works.
"They discussed new legislation that they're pushing through, changes in the laws pertaining to gangs, tools that we found in dealing with our gangs that if we can modify to make the law enforcement side of it more effective, to discourage gang members and gang membership," Brock said.
Friday's presentation, made by Al Valdez, a social sciences instructor at the University of California, Irvine, who teaches about gangs and gang activity, shared his knowledge and experience with law enforcement.
Valdez, formerly an undercover police officer and an investigator for the Orange County District Attorney's office, shared with officers that understanding brain development and the five stages of brain maturation can help increase understanding about youth and gang involvement.
Valdez said that the brain doesn't fully mature until age 24 and that in teen years, finding a group to belong to is the primary goal. He said that this, along with hormone changes can go a long way in explaining the tendency for some teenagers becoming gang members.
In listening to Valdez, Brock said he drew a lot of parallels to ways that local programs, such as Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, Junior Leadership Corps and the Neighborhood Improvement Program, have helped curb gang involvement.
"We get to the kids early, give them something to believe in, rather than the gang area and you completely change — you give the kids a different area to focus in and a positive area to focus in," Brock said.
When asked if he felt that gang activity has lessened because of these programs, Brock said, "I personally think the creation of those two groups in the high school have probably done more to make an impact in Garden City than anything else in a long time."
He said that the groups give kids representation and something to be a part of, but also that participating in conferences such as the KGIA's this week, gives law enforcement fresh perspectives on how to approach the youth in the area.
"It's been very beneficial and the more people that we can get to go to these conferences and get this training, that's putting a new officer out in each community that has a different outlook on how to be engaged and have a positive influence on the kid," he said.
Other presentations through the week informed officers about the ways that citizens could be more involved in recognizing and reporting gang activity, a presentation on border violence, which highlighted drug cartels, and a presentation about motorcycle gangs.