Richland County, SC (WLTX) - Midlands gang task force leaders say gangs are representing themselves in new and troubling ways.
Earlier this week, News19 showed you how a Kershaw County six-year-old found that out the hard way. He innocently went to school with the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants shaved into the side of his head and was told not to come back because of his hair cut. Previous Coverage: "Spongebob" Haircut Gets Student in Trouble at Midway Elementary School
"We have a certain group here, a gang that represents themselves with Spongebob, due to the signs and symbols and places he is employed such as the Crab Shack," said Richland County Sheriff's Department Gang Task Force Leader, Vincent Goggins. "Six-year-olds love Spongebob, but if you're starting to see teenagers 15 and above I would say it may have some representation of some type of gang."
Goggins says the landscape for gangs is changing with more local groups forming based on territory. It's making law enforcement's task of keeping up with all their signs and symbols even more difficult.
"A lot of those symbols you will be able to pick up on immediately and determine whether or not that person is a gang member."
From cartoons to sports teams like the UNC Tar Heels and Atlanta Falcons, Goggins says parents also need to watch out for the constant use of certain numbers. He says three, six, five, thirteen and eighteen are all used by national gangs to represent themselves.
Goggins believes the best gang deterrent is an involved parent.
"Start and look more into anything their kid is representing or calling themselves. Spend time with your child and get to know your child."
Goggins says gang violence has decreased significantly in the last five years in Richland county.
If you're interested, the county hosts regular community meetings to teach parents more about the signs and symbols of street gangs.