Sgt. Choice Barnes

Sgt. Choice Barnes leads the Moultrie Police Department's anti-gang effort.

MOULTRIE, Ga. — Aiming to answer the question “How do you recognize gang involvement?” Moultrie Police Department Sgt. Choice Barnes is inviting everyone to a class that’ll answer just that.

He and the MPD’s gang task force are hosting Gang Awareness Training on Feb. 8 at Southern Regional Technical College’s Conference Center. 

According to a press release from the city, “The hope is to reach Moultrie and Colquitt County’s youth and steer their focus away from joining a gang.” But it’s also to give the citizens knowledge for the future.

“Their children could be involved but they don’t know,” Barnes said.

Noticing changes in a youth’s behavior will be one of the topics discussed in the class. It’s a current focus of the MPD and their efforts against gangs. Barnes said changing behavior doesn’t necessarily mean they’re involved in a gang, but it could be an effect of exposure. 

Sometimes it’s obvious, he said.

“A lot of times you can see it [and] a lot of times they just tell on themselves what they’re about,” Barnes said.

One of the ways to notice an affiliation is the paraphernalia a youth wears or how they wear it. This includes bandanas, certain symbols, colors worn and other factors involving social media, music and what they read.

Tattoos can be the most obvious indicator, however.

“That’s the sign of a hardcore gang member because you can’t erase a tattoo or the certain burn marks they put on their body,” Barnes said.

This is just a sliver of what can be learned in the class. Barnes said he’ll be bringing in gang paraphernalia he’s collected over the years to better paint a picture of what to look for.

Barnes helped set up the MPD gang task force, and currently helps in building a gang database for the department while also identifying and validating gang members. 

He’s integral in determining if youth are involved with gangs or at risk, as he meets with them should parents report their concerns to the school system or the MPD.

However, he’s noticed that gangs and their members are adapting in this advanced technical age.

“What stuff are they up to on Facebook [or] Instagram?” Barnes said is a question he asks when identifying gang involvement. “They’re getting smart about it. They’ll say stuff and do something on one thing and in 15 minutes it’s gone. They’re getting smart behind a lot of that stuff and it makes it tougher on us.”

Thus, making the class more important to the community. This isn’t the first time the City of Moultrie took part in something like this. In April 2007, several agencies across the county partnered to present a “Gangs and Violence Prevention Workshop,” which focused on similar topics.

This will, however, be the first one the city does on its own. The free Gang Awareness Training class will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with no need to sign up.

“The Moultrie Police Department feels it’s important for citizens to attend so they can help identify gang activity and/or members in their neighborhoods and community,” the city said in a press release.

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