West Memphis Police Combat Gang Threat

March 8, 2004 -- posted at 7:00 p.m. CST

West Memphis -- Ola Washington is just one of the residents of the Mayfair Apartment Complex in West Memphis that doesn't allow her children to play outside. The reason: gangs and their violent messages.

"It's so bad. They break into your apartment, drug traffic, all those things," said Washington.

It's not just the residents that live in this complex that are fearful of gangs. Shirley Kilmore has lived in West Memphis since she was 15. She says times have changed.

"So much dope and everything like that that it's making it scary," said Kilmore.

Police say there are approximately 10-15 gangs in the West Memphis area. They leave their mark in graffiti and Police Chief Bob Paudert says their intent is to commit crime and intimidate the community.

Paudert has started aggressive policing on the streets to curtail gang activity before it gets out of hand. But already gang activity has cost the city a ton of money to clean-up the destruction. And what's even worse, according to the police, gang members are trying to recruit 10 to 12 year olds sometimes through the use of force.

"We are not intimidated by those thugs one bit," said Paudert. "I promise you we are going to take a very, very aggressive approach to that and stop it."

But there is at least one obstacle getting in the way of police action. Chief Paudert says gang members and community activists are trying to manipulate the system, by filing complaints against law enforcement that turn out to be false.

"The plan by them is to tie the police up with all these frivolous complaints with no basis for it, and then what they have done is discourage a police officer from doing their job," said Paudert.

As a result, now all complaints must be submitted in writing by victims or witnesses of alleged police wrongdoing. But will these efforts be enough to stop the power struggle in West Memphis?

"The bottom line is we're not going to tolerate it, we're not going to put up with it," said Paudert.