Is Fort Pierce losing gains made on fighting gangs?
The city of Fort Pierce received a federal crime-fighting grant in 2020 from the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the guidelines, it could have spent the money on gang task forces.
City officials have not responded to WFLX’s questions about how that grant money was spent.
It is one of many outstanding questions about the connection between gangs and Monday’s shooting at Ilous Ellis Park that killed one woman and sent others to the hospital.
"This was a gang-related shooting," St. Lucie County Chief Deputy Brian Hester labeled the incident Tuesday.
Twenty-four hours later, Hester clarified the role of gangs.
"Individuals that we know were involved in this are documented gang members," Hester said. "It wasn't like two gangs showed up and had a beef with each other. The dispute was not gang-related."
Still, the events of the past few years show gang-related crimes connected to Fort Pierce have kept the sheriff's office busy in recent years.
St. Lucie County deputies arrested two men in August 2022 on drug charges they say were members of a Fort Pierce gang.
Deputies charged four reputed members of a Fort Pierce gang in March 2021 on weapons and drug charges.
Sheriff Ken Mascara used the phrase “hometown terrorists” when he announced in 2017 the roundup of 30 members that he said were tied to two violent Fort Pierce street gangs.
There has been progress in fighting the problem.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice credited a Fort Pierce social program for a 56% drop in gang-involved crime.
At a Fort Pierce City Commission meeting this week, some feared Monday’s shooting may steal attention from any progress made.
"Stop all the negativity, people on social media and everywhere else about our beautiful city of Fort Pierce," Commissioner Albert Gaines said. "It was one incident, and we're on top of it."
Public relations professional Elliot Cohen of Boca Raton has worked with governments and businesses on how to best deal with the public during a crisis.
"If there's a problem that makes people feel unsafe in your city, then you as the city need to acknowledge that," advised Cohen. "The thing that a city needs to do, first and foremost, is not be the only one in the room acknowledging what everybody else in the room sees."
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