TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Tippecanoe County prosecutor Pat Harrington met with dozens of youth workers in a special forum focused on gang activity.
"We have approximately 20 or more gangs in Tippecanoe County at this time," Harrington said. "It could be higher in given months and sometimes it's lower, but it really doesn't matter the number. It's the fact that they are here."
Throughout the years, Harrington said more and more children ages 9 through 12 are deciding to join the more than 20 gangs in the area.
"We are aware of it through some of our kids, but it was just rather alarming today to hear that," Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Lafayette executive director Ronda McKinnis said.
Harrington said the best way to prevent gang activity is to provide affordable extracurricular activities.
McKinnis said whether it's through sports or the arts children need a mentor.
"So many of the younger kids are drawn into gangs because they don't have a positive male role model in their looking for a way to belong, so our mentors can fill that void in their lives," McKinnis said.
However, Harrington said many of the programs are getting left behind or are too expensive for the families of at-risk kids.
"Let's do an inventory. What do we have and then let's start figuring out how next summer, 2014, let's not wait any longer," Harrington said. "What programs are we going to put out there? We can move it up quicker. What are we going to put out in January for after-school programs?"
Harrington said it's going to take the entire community to combat gangs and working together we can keep more children off the streets.
"This is the moment we need to come together and start putting those positive policies in effect so that we can basically tell gangs that they're not wanted in Tippecanoe County," Harrington said. "We're going to protect our youth."
Harrington said in 10 years he hopes to see more free or affordable youth programs available, and that Lafayette can become an example of how a community can combat gang activity.
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