19-year-old Maurice Bowser, an alleged member of the Bloods gang, was charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Shots were fired into a passing car, and a man thought to be a member of the Crips gang was hit in the leg.Six people standing on the street nearby and alleged to be inciting the shootings were charged with solicitation to commit a felony, said Elizabeth City police Sgt. Gary Bray.The charges carry penalties less harsh than those against a shooter, but the result is the potential for more gang members to be taken off the street, Bray said.In November, seven alleged gang members were arrested after an investigation of a string of shootings in the summer; authorities employed the seldom-used charge of "going armed to the terror of the public."
Those arrests netted what was believed to be most of the Bloods gang known as West Side Piru, Bray said.Using the old laws to make as many arrests as possible, even for more minor crimes, is part of a zero-tolerance policy used by the Elizabeth City Police Department and neighborhood crime watches.Since zero tolerance was instituted in 2007, murders in Elizabeth City have dropped from seven in 2006 to two in 2007 to none last year, according to the city's annual crime report. Assaults related to gang activity fell to 94 from 104."We want to send a strong message to gang members who influence others to commit crimes, We're going to charge you, too," Bray said.
"Solicitation to commit a felony" can be used when someone induces another person to commit a felony. Without that charge, Bray could have arrested only Bowser, he said.
After a spate of shootings last year, Bray sought a way to arrest gang members who encourage a shooter but are not carrying weapons themselves, he said. He studied the statutes and found "solicitation to commit a felony.""It's not been tested in court yet," he said."Going armed to the terror of the public" allows police to make arrests even if no shots are fired. Both laws originated in England but are rarely used in North Carolina, District Attorney Frank Parrish said."What's happened is what's old is new again," Parrish said.He will prosecute the charges if the evidence supports them, he said.Elizabeth City police are also teaming with federal law enforcement to make large-scale arrests with charges that carry heavier penalties, Bray said.In addition, neighborhood watch groups have been more active, Police Chief Charles Crudup said. Residents have been asked to report even minor crimes around their homes. The city plans to install 18 more cameras - for a total of 24 - in high-crime areas, Crudup said.Officer Eddie Rodriguez is working with neighborhoods, civic groups and individuals in gang prevention. Gangs in Elizabeth City are using drug money to buy guns, said Bray, who heads a combination drug and gang unit.
Typically, shootings happen when a gang "disrespects" a rival gang member or trespasses through drug-selling turf, Bray said.Children as young as 12 join gangs and are used to sell drugs or carry out gun deals, he said. Older gang members know that youths without a record will not get much punishment.
"If you start at 12, by the time you reach 16, you're going to be well-versed," Bray said.Recently, police arrested a 16-year-old after he was pulled over on a traffic stop. A pump shotgun was found in the car. It was discovered that the teen was wanted in New York in the shooting of a rival gang member when he was 14. Now he is awaiting extradition to New York.Years ago, gangs were identified more by neighborhoods, but nationally recognized names have arrived here through the prison system, Bray said. A prisoner is typically forced to join one or the other, he said.
Some gang members say they will "throw down their flag," or leave the gang, after an arrest. "We don't have any documented cases of that actually happening," Bray said.Violent crimes have dropped for two years but can return quickly, he said. Two weeks ago, in what is believed to be a gang-related incident, a man was shot in the back with a shotgun, Bray said. The man survived, but no one has been arrested.
"I don't know if we'll ever get it totally under control," he said. "You try to do the best you can. It gets over-whelming at times."
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