GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The North Carolina Gang Investigators Association began its annual conference Tuesday at the Sheraton at Four Seasons and officials said this is the first year civilians will attend the meeting to help law enforcement fight gangs.
Officials said there are 1.4 million gang members nationwide and 16,000 in North Carolina.
Organizers said the conference allows law enforcement from all over the state to trade information and learn new tips in spotting and stopping gangs.
NCGIA President Captain Mark Bridger said the group invited non-law enforcement civilians like educators and school administrators because police have found gang problems start long before police are able to stop them.
"Gang members network in and of themselves, so if we're not doing it in law enforcement, we're losing out," Bridger said. "That's absolutely a natural progression because we cannot arrest our way out of gangs in North Carolina and the United States."
Capt. Bridger said focusing on stopping gangs from forming and how to help former gang members succeed outside of gang life are crucial to stopping gang activity.
Guilford County's Executive Director of Student Services and Character Development Brenda Elliott got to go to the meeting this year. She said schools are important in gang prevention.
"The good thing about school: it's the time when young people are around positive, principled adults. What is scary is for communities not to have those kinds of opportunities outside of school," Elliott said.