PENDER COUNTY -- The Pender County sheriff's office says the number of gang members are on the rise. Gangs are typically reported as an urban problem, but law enforcement officers say rural areas are seeing more members, more symbols and more gangs. Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith says while gang violence is not currently a problem, there is an increase of gang markings on streets, signs and homes. Along a rural stretch of road in Rocky Point a street sign is marked with the symbol of Surenos 13, a primarily Latino gang, and one of the fastest growing gangs in Pender County. Sheriff Carson Smith says it's cause for concern. "We see gang markings, every now and then, some violence that might be associated with gangs, but it's the numbers and the markings that we're seeing that's getting our attention," he said. The Sheriff's Office has identified eight separate gangs in the county, including the well-known bloods and crips. They've left their mark in the Willow Bay community in Rocky Point. That sign has now been taken down. Willow Bay resident Edith Smith said, "Well, we have just learned about it recently that there were gangsters around here." Edith Smith says there have been break-ins and vandalism in her neighborhood. Right now, crypt signs are spray painted on her street. Smith said, "If you say anything to the children about doing stuff they will come back and do something on the road or to somebody's property or whatever." Just down the road people don't know if the problem is necessarily gangs. Willow Bay resident Betsy Casey said, "I think it's just kids when their parents are working, and they don't have anything to do, and they just walk around at night like hoodlums more or less." But the Pender County sheriff's office says the vandalism is more than just graffiti, it's a sign of a bigger problem. "We have seen an increase in gang activity in the county," Sheriff Smith said. "[It's] something that we're watching closely. We want to be able to do more; we're looking at ways to do more, to stop the growth. We don't want it to grow any more." The Pender County Sheriff's Office has just one detective handling at least 80 identified gang member's cases. Smith says he's working on growing the ranks and developing a gang unit.
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