Benton County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck said he wants to keep gangs off the streets and out of schools by creating the Gang Suppression Unit a week into the job.
The unit, comprised of Benton County detectives with the Sheriff's Office, will be led by Specialized Unit Capt. Brandon Rogers.
"We are going to go into the communities where we know there is an issue right now and suppressing that crime," Rogers said.
Rogers said the county is home to motorcycle gangs and street gangs. He said they can arrive to the county from larger U.S. cities, other countries, and there are even gangs born in Northwest Arkansas.
Rogers said the new unit plans to target the youth and be proactive.
"They'll give me updates daily and we are going to come up with proactive solutions to gang problems,” Rogers said. “I know we are probably going to go into the schools, talk to the kids to try to prevent them from being part of gangs."
Rogers said unit members will investigate and keep a tally on gang members in the county.
"We've seen it from Gravette, to Siloam Springs, Bentonville, Rogers. I don't think any community is exempt," Rogers said.
Jail Investigator Addie Coggin, who’s also part of the gang unit, gains an insight from inmates regarding gang activity.
Coggin said the gang unit uses drawings and tattoos to learn about and document gang members.
"You can clearly see who they are connected with, what gang they are affiliated with… and what area they are from looking at the pictures," Coggin said.
Coggin interviews suspected gang members when they are arrested. If she confirms their affiliation, their pictures and location are documented.
"It puts their face on the map and pans them out all over the county," Coggin said.
The gang unit's goal is to prevent gangs and organized crime from spreading.
"I would say it's a sporadic problem,” Rogers said. “I don't think it's a consistent problem right now but we want to stop it before it's a consistent problem."
Rogers said the gang unit will use funding within the Benton County Sheriff's Office budget and hopes to apply for grants in the future.