Laurel officials: gang problem overblown

Laurel Police Chief Walter Martin set up a gang task force back in July and now he's creating a database that will identify gang members — all of that with the stated purpose of rooting out crime and cleaning up the city.

So it may come as a surprise to hear what city officials are claiming now: that Laurel doesn't have any gangs.

"I'm sick and tired of people saying Laurel is infested with gangs and gang activity," Martin told News 7's Ontario Richardson Tuesday. "That's just not the case."

Martin says he's fed up because every time a drive-by shooting occurs or a shootout between two groups of people, the community cries that it's gang-related.

"Before they do any drive-by shooting or anything like that, it's just a bunch of kids.  But if they happen to have a gun and happen to drive by and shoot somebody all of a sudden they're a gang," Martin says.

"My definition of a gang is truly what a gang is, and not just a group of people who want to take their aggression out on another group of people. I don't think that's a gang."

Martin says regardless of what anyone thinks, he's not in denial.

But it was just a few months ago that Mayor Melvin Mack publicly declared war on crime in his city.

"I promise you we are getting ready to declare war on these gangbangers, these drugs and these weapons," Mack told News 7 on June 19. "We're going to set up roadblocks whether people like them or not."

Today Mack is singing a different tune.

"There may have been a problem, but there were still a lot of wannabes out there," Mack says now. "There were some kids out there, if you would have mentioned gang they would have ran home."

While he downplays talk of gang activity, Chief Martin has recently created a database that would identify gang members in the community, and he's still setting up random roadblocks to catch lawbreakers.