Efforts continue to try and crack down on gang activity in the Garden State, but progress is difficult.

According to Lt. Jay Mandziuk, the director of the State Police Gangs and Organized Crime Central Unit, big gangs like the Bloods, the Crips and the Latin Kings are still attracting members. But we are now also seeing a new trend.

“It’s back to the neighborhood-style gangs," he says. "The guys you grew up with on the block, on the corner, guys you went to school with.”

Mandziuk says besides gun running and prostitution, gangs are involved in many other illegal activities in New Jersey.

“There’s mortgage fraud, you have extortions, stealing cars, selling drugs, armed robberies — whatever makes money to help support the gang.”

He said the State Police works with local, county and federal partners to try and clamp down on gang activity in the cities, the suburbs and in rural areas.

“Everyone brings something to the table. The local agency knows what’s going on day-to-day in a particular neighborhood. The county guys know what’s going on inside the county jail. And the feds bring the federal penal code into play if it applies, which is a much stricter sentencing guideline,” he said.

Nevertheless, gangs in New Jersey continue to flourish.

“You have those that join for power, a sense of belonging, respect, a means to make money. You also have guys joining for replacement of family,” he said.

“This is what they grew up with, this is what they know. You’re going into multiple generations of gang members within a particular family."

He said what they’re seeing in neighborhoods is there are some young people that will grow up and to want to join the military or law enforcement, the high school and college football team. And then there are those that will want to join a gang.

In order to change what’s happening, “it’s beyond a law enforcement problem; it’s a social economic problem. So you need job training, school programs because a lot of these kids are young,” he said.

“What stands out in my mind most is sports teams — getting kids involved in PAL, athletic groups, being around positive male role models.”

He said the best way to stop gang activity is to help kids see there are other options in their life, but they also need support even after they’ve joined a gang, committed a crime and gone to prison so they can choose another path once they get out.

“Some kids don’t know there’s life beyond their neighborhood, that’s all they know: their block, their corner. For some kids, that’s the scope of their world. We’re trying to show them there is a greater world out there.”

He said while law enforcement tries to talk to kids and get them involved in positive things, “it’s hard to undo the negative influence they have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

He said the message they try to get out to kids is that they have a choice.

“You can work your way up towards the negative, which ends in death in prison, or you can work your way up towards the positive, and have a life free of street drama.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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