PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — On any given afternoon, members of Hurst Chapel African Methodist Episcopal church are on their knees praying against gang violence in Riviera Beach.
”We must reclaim this space that our parents have cried for, died for and invested their lives in, and not allow it to be just usurped from it,” said Dr. Elvin J. Parker, III, pastor of Hurst Chapel A.M.E.
Pastor Parker says a lot has changed since the church was founded in 1923 - particularly occurrences outside the church walls.
”We’ve stepped out the front door and have seen shootings - or cars going down the street,” said Dr. Parker.
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To quell concerns from county citizens the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office announced the creation of a multi-agency violent crimes task force on Thursday. Announced just one day after the arrest of 14 members of the street gang Firehouse Clique.
"The bad guys ought to be shaking in their boots, because we're coming after you," said Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
The sheriff said the group of law enforcement agencies, dubbed Operation First 48, will target nearly a dozen gangs committing crimes in Palm Beach County.
"With Operation First 48, we stand together in sending a strong message to the bad guys. You will not control our neighborhoods," said West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James. "We're taking our city, our county back."
The task force will include members of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, West Palm Beach Police Department, Riviera Beach Police Department, Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, FBI, DEA, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals, and more.
Sheriff Bradshaw said hundreds of law enforcement officers will be involved in Operation First 48.
The task force will target the following gangs:
- MS 13
- Maniac Latin Disciples
- Camp 19
- Downtown Gang
- Latin Kings
- Knoc Gang
- Andy Gang
- Firehouse Clique
Sheriff Bradshaw also said on Thursday that more arrests are coming, "Don't go to sleep, because at 2 o'clock in the morning, we're gonna kick your door down and take you to jail."
While the task force wouldn’t give specifics as to how they’ll reduce gang numbers, they plan to use all resources and investigative techniques to solve homicides and other gang-related problems.
”The gangs are also involved in human trafficking,” Bradshaw added.
West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James says the creation of the task force is in line with his campaign commitment. And he plans to keep it
”Look, our residents have got to feel safe,” said James. “I don’t care whether you reside in Ibis - our most expensive community or in Pleasant City or Coleman Park - you as a resident deserve to feel safe and secure.”
But David Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County said it will also require community backing.
”We need people to say something if they see something and not be afraid to come forward,”” said Aronberg.