HAMLET — Police say there is more than just a rash of shootings over the last 16 months to signal gang activity in the area. They also point to graffiti on buildings, street signs and even streets to show there is a problem.
Even though the shootings began in June of last year, Detective Capt. Randy Dover said the Hamlet Police Department has been concentrating heavily on gang activity since late February of this year.
Detective Sgt. Chris Lampley recently drove around town snapping photos of what investigators say is gang-related graffiti.
A small wooden barn on Kent Street is covered in spray-painted slogans from both Crips and Bloods, he said. Painted on the outside are the letters “DVB,” which Lampley said stands for Death Valley Bloods, and the word “Hoover,” which is from a Crip set.
Inside the building, along with two more “DVB”s is the number 5 with a star in the middle and the word “PoPPin” written across the top. Lampley said that comes from the Blood term “5 poppin 6 droppin.”
All of the Blood symbology was painted in red.
The back of a stop sign on Earle Franklin Drive has the letters “NY” painted in blue, which Lampley said is associated with the Crips.
“Colors mean a lot,” he said.
A school crossing sign on N.C. 177 near Monroe Avenue Elementary School features the words “West Ave.”
Across the street at the Hamlet Food Mart, a phone booth on the corner is painted with “7’z UP,” which police say stands for “Gs up.” The store has been the site of several shootings — including one in August when five shots were fired at an officer who was trying to help someone unlock their car.
The door of an old school building, slated to become a Mexican restaurant, have the letters “RTC,” which signifies Rollin 2os Crips.
While most of the activity has been on the north side of town, Dover and Lampley said they are starting to see an uptick in south Hamlet.
Painted on the sidewalk and even the roadway of East Columbia Avenue is the word “PIRU,” which is a Compton, California-based Blood gang.
Dover said officers recently rolled up a Crip meeting on that street, which he thought was strange considering the Blood symbols.
Just this week, Lampley took photos of the markings “OTB 4 LIFE” and “M.OB.,” though he isn’t sure which gang they’re related to.
Dover asks anyone who sees these markings to call police and urges parents to “pay attention to what your kids are drawing.”
He said gangs are recruiting kids as young as elementary school and middle schoolers have told police that they are gang members, wearing bandanas and gang colors.
“It’s not just wannabes anymore, it’s the real deal,” he said. “They are recruiting these youngsters and they’re committing crimes.”
In July, police detained three teenagers — wearing colors associated with the Crips — at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store after an officer allegedly smelled marijuana.
Of the two 16-year-olds, one was charged with felony possession with intent to sell or deliver, the other with misdemeanor possession. The third teen, a 15-year-old was allegedly caught witha .32 caliber semi-automatic handgun.
According to Dover, there are validated gang members in Hamlet associated with three nationwide gangs, including three sets of the Crips, Bloods and Folk Nation.
“There are very few (Bloods), but we have some,” Lampley said.
Dover added that there is a list of criteria that suspects have to meet to be validated.
Investigators have been in contact with some who claim to be out of the gangs who have given details about local players and what’s going on.
“The thing that blew my mind is the ties to New York, Atlanta…Hamlet is a hub,” Dover said.
Hamlet officers have been working with the Rockingham Police Department and Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to combat the problem and have taken classess and attended conferences on gangs. They have also had help from the Laurinburg Police Department’s gang unit.
Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. in December announced the formation of a gang task force, made up of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Rockingham and Hamlet police departments, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, Richmond County Schools and the system’s Special Police, District Attorney Reese Saunders’ office and the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to look into these types of activities,” Clemmons said at the time, “but that’s the reality.”
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.