Lawton_Does Fort Sill have a gang problem? That's a question 7NEWS has been asking post officials for the last 6 months. It all began back in November of last year when The Oklahoman newspaper quoted the Lawton Police Gang Task Force and a former City Council member, who all said there are gang members in the military assigned to Fort Sill.
Immediately after the stories were published, we started asking Fort Sill for a response.
This is what they had to say:
Questions from Channel 7 Reporter/Weekend Anchor Monte Brown and PAO responses.
1.) Can Fort Sill definitively say there are no active duty military members stationed on the post who claim gang affiliations or participate in criminal gang activity? How was the answer to this question determined?
A1. No, and we have never made such a claim. We said last November that no evidence of a Fort Sill soldier participating in gang activity has been presented to Fort Sill by civilian law enforcement. No Soldier has been arrested for gang activity or identified by police as a suspect in gang activity. This is still the case as far as we know. It doesn't mean the possibility doesn't exist.
2.) Why did Fort Sill authorize members of the post's criminal investigation division (or military police) to ride along with members of the Lawton Police Department's Gang Task Force following a story regarding Fort Sill gang members which was published in The Oklahoman in November?
A2. Fort Sill law enforcement personnel and commanders of units at Fort Sill are offered the opportunity to ride along with civilian police as a matter of community involvement and information. It helps them understand what the police are dealing with off post, and gives them a better idea of what information needs to be passed on to their Soldiers to keep them safe. ROTC and West Point cadets who visit this summer as part of their leadership training will also take part. This program has been in place between Fort Sill and the Lawton Police Department for years.
3.) Does Fort Sill consider pictures of soldiers "throwing gang signs" gang activity?
A3. If you are referring to pictures of anonymous individuals displaying such signs on social networking sites, the answer is no. Displaying such pictures is not a crime, and a screen name does not allow us to identify the individual, even if the person is wearing military-style clothing. You will see similar pictures displayed on social networking sites around many military installations. If a Soldier is positively identified in such a picture, then his chain of command can take action to investigate and, if needed, counsel the Soldier about his behavior. Individual cases of specifically identified Soldiers known to participate in gang activity may result in criminal or administrative action against the Soldier.
4.) If a soldier is arrested by Lawton Police for any crime considered "gang related" does Fort Sill consider that soldier to be affiliated with a gang and participating in gang activity?
A4. Not necessarily, but it does allow military authorities to investigate further and his chain of command to counsel the Soldier about his activities. If the Soldier is convicted of the crime, then his commander can take action to discharge him from the Army.
5.) Are soldiers who claim gang affiliations allowed to do so in the U.S. Army?
A5. Commanders have the inherent authority to prohibit any activity that detracts from a unit's good order and discipline or morale. Participation in an extremist organization, such as a gang, can result in criminal and administrative sanctions against the Soldier.
6.) How does Fort Sill and the U.S. Army deal with soldiers who are found to claim gang affiliations and participate in gang activity?
A6. Soldiers who participate in extremist activities detract from a unit's good order and discipline and morale. While commanders evaluate each case on an individual basis, Soldiers who do participate in extremist organizations are subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and administrative sanctions, to include involuntary separation.
7.) Why has Fort Sill refused repeated requests from this station to talk on camera about this issue?
A7. We have declined all media requests for (on-camera) interviews because we didn't feel it was appropriate to engage on the topic, especially since it is not true to the best of our knowledge. It was a joint decision by the Fort Sill command and the City of Lawton mayor to not grant interviews and allow the police agencies concerned to develop their procedures and working relationships for the new gang task force. Since then we have gone through an exhaustive process to investigate the relationship between our police agencies and their information sharing procedures. After two months we re-evaluated the situation and were very pleased with the results. The indication from both sides is that the information sharing and relationship is greatly improved. Dealing with the gangs issue is a team effort between Lawton and Fort Sill, and from our standpoint both Fort Sill and the City of Lawton are pleased with the cooperation and information-sharing now taking place between our police agencies.
Posted: May 7, 2009 05:04 PM