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Our view: What we don't know is hurting us

How bad is Syracuse's gang problem? Who knows? If the Syracuse City Police know, they're not talking. But finally, people from within the city's neighborhoods and beyond are starting to ask questions.

The response from the police so far is to cite statistics gathered some six years ago. That report from 2005 revealed 28 gangs on the city's streets. That figure does little to explain to fearful neighborhood residents the size and scope of the gang problem.

How many people are involved in the gangs? What ages? How widespread is gang activity and what do the gangs do besides fight each other?

For its part, the city has resorted to another campaign to get guns off the streets. It's a noble cause and it's hoped that police will be able harvest some of the guns circulating in gang circles.

The gun program, however, should be viewed as a helpful part of solving of the gang problem. It certainly isn't the answer. Community awareness is good, too. As is better general police street presence. Surveillance cameras will help somewhat.

Most of all, if city residents are to help, they need information. How do gangs recruit members? What can a parent do if they suspect their child is involved or has been approached by a gang? How do you make being a gang member unattractive? How do you identify young people vulnerable to the allure of gang culture? How do you help residents overcome the stigma attached to reporting gang activity to police?

There is no doubt that city police are vigorous in their pursuit of stopping gang activity, but they need a lot more hands to suppress gang activity. That help has to come from an alert and informed community.

It's time for a full assessment of Syracuse's gang problem and an evaluation of the methods in place for handling it.

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