UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Some Utica-area kids join gangs in order to feel they belong to something. Others do it for their own personal safety.
"Protection's one of the biggest things. That they don't feel safe in their neighborhood or their community. They use their friends," says Steve Darman, of Social Science Associates. Darman's firm conducted a recent gang study in Oneida County.
Knowing that gang members wouldn't talk to him, Darman hired neighborhood people whom gang members know and trust to go gather information.
"We were really careful I don't have any names, I ask people not to report crimes in the interviews you know really careful with the data so they have a level of trust and they can really open up and talk."
Open up and talk, they did, about things like initiation rites, which gang members say include illegal activities such as shoplifting, "smoking weed," as one put it, and sexual activities.
"I have to wear beads with the color of my gang," said one member interviewed for the study.
Asked to name the most prolific gangs in Utica, people in the city's neighborhoods rattled off several names, some of which you might have seen in the form of graffiti on local buildings. 2 HIgh Klass, LES (Lower East Side), Cornhill Soldiers (CHS) are a few local gangs. Others, such as Asian Boyz, Crips, Bloods and Latin Kings, have national affiliations. A building on James Street in Utica bears the name of NSG, or, "Neva Slippin Gang". Next to that graffiti, the street name of a local 16-year-old killed while visiting family in New York City.
Among the saddest findings of the study: how little it would actually take to steer some kids away from gangs.
"Young people actually say if I had more support at home more things to do safe place to be, I wouldn't be hanging out on the streets. Not everyone who gets gang involved loves gang life. It's not a great life. You've gotta have to watch your back all the time," says Darman.
The solution? Darman says, build stronger relationships among youth and adults in neighborhoods and police. And catch the children young, before it's too late.
"Once they get really seriously gang involved they can take that other path and we lose them and it's really hard to get them back."
Darman says Utica's gang problem would still be considered 'emerging', and not as serious as that of larger cities along the thruway.