SPRINGFIELD, Tenn.- If the city of Springfield was in denial about gang activity it isn't anymore. The police chief said when he arrived he was told they didn't have gangs, but he soon found out otherwise.
Chief David Thompson has since forged a partnership with civic leaders to go after gang activity. Robertson County President and CEO Margot Fosnes has also joined the effort. She is helping lead an effort to clean up Springfield.
On Saturday, July 21 the chamber will sponsor a city wide graffiti removal day.
"Graffiti is an advertising medium for gangs. So, we want to get rid of what's here and start a program to get rid of graffiti as it happens, so that folks can report it immediately so it can be taken down within a week or two," said Fosnes.
Gangs have tagged certain areas and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime statistics show the community has more crime per capita than average for a town its size. The TBI says in 2011 crimes per capita in Tennessee was 9089 per one thousand people. In Springfield it was 10389.
Springfield Police Chief David Thompson said he saw signs of gang activity when he became chief in January.
"Was I surprised? Not terribly surprised," he said.
He was a chief in Florida for more than 20 years. When he first came to town he was told gang activity was not an issue.
"Typically the reaction I've gotten when I've discussed this has been two things. The first thing has been I didn't know and the second thing has been what can I do to help?" said Chief Thompson.
He said his focus is getting people to help and asking residents to join him in combating the problem.
That's why Fosnes says the chamber of commerce has decided to step up to the plate. She said cleaning up gang graffiti and eventually curbing the gang problem is important. Businesses and people looking to relocate to the area may find the crime rate unacceptable. Fosnes said that has to change.
"It's definitely an image that we don't want to have. And rather than ignoring it and pretending it's not true it's better to tackle it," she said.
The graffiti removal day is scheduled for July 21. Volunteers will meet at the Bransford Elementary School at 8 o'clock in the morning. They'll break into groups and head to 15 locations.