Just about a week after he publicly shared "the bad news" that Youngstown's criminals were moving into Boardman Township, Police Chief Jeff Patterson was witness to some very good news: The capture of 13 reputed members of the South Side Soldiers, a criminal gang that operated in the area of Pasadena and East Dewey avenues in Youngstown and the Southern Park Mall and Movies 8 in Boardman.
"It was a grand slam day," said Sgt. Bob Magnuson, commander of the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force, of the six adults and seven juveniles who were taken into custody Wednesday after a 13-count indictment was unsealed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. Task force members, including those from the Boardman Police Department, took less than two hours to nab Maurice Morris, identified by Magnuson as the leader of the South Side Soldiers, and the others.
But while the crackdown of this gang is worthy of top-story status, it by no means ends the bad news that Chief Patterson talked about.
"The players [criminals] are out there," he told attendees at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber's "Good Morning Boardman" program. "It's coming this way. It's my biggest concern right now."
Patterson pointed out that he has 69 sworn officers, with about seven to 10 patrol cars on the street per shift, but could use 85 officers.
"Right now, we can put a full team on the field, but we have no bench," the chief said. "But we always ask for more. They teach us that in police chief school."
Underlying that little bit of humor is the fact that suburban communities, especially those adjacent to Youngstown, are very much in the cross hairs of the gangbangers who for so long have turned neighborhoods in the city into veritable war zones.
Youngstown Detective Sgt. Mike Lambert, commenting after members of the South Side Soldiers were nabbed, revealed that the task force gang unit has been tracking 34 separate street gangs, mostly in Youngstown, with a membership of 700.
That statistic should be a wake-up call for residents throughout the Mahoning Valley because it reveals a level of criminal activity that is cause for concern. Why? Because it suggests that even with the all-out campaign against violent crime launched by local law enforcement agencies in conjunction with state and federal agencies, there is a segment of the population that neither respects the law nor the lawman.
That is why it is important to make an example of gang members who do get caught.
We have no doubt that prosecutors will be aggressive in seeking convictions and that the judge will hand out the maximum penalties. Records show that the six adults and seven juveniles aren't choir boys who got involved in some harmless pranks. They are criminals who, along with many others, are destroying the fabric of our society. They do not deserve a break.
Law enforcement officials are working hard to end the crime epidemic in the city of Youngstown and in some of the suburban communities. They deserve to be supported by the criminal justice system.