Evidence of gangs can be found on businesses and homes throughout Jacksonville and Cherokee County. Gang recruitment starts as early as the 5th grade and continues through high school, according to Rex Brown, police chief at Jacksonville ISD.
"What we've seen in the last couple years is a regeneration of this through the younger students," Brown said.
Brown and his officers have confiscated notebooks covered in gang symbols from middle and high school students. They then notify parents.
"And what we're trying to do now is, of course, get on top of it before gangs do get to the situation as it was before," Brown said.
Last month, gang-related criminal activity escalated to what police deem an all-time high. At the Fantasy Ballroom just outside city limits, a 16-year-old Jacksonville High School student stabbed another student who was a member of a rival gang.
Authorities say there has been a long-standing conflict between the two main criminal street gangs, "Los Latin Locos," or "L3," and "13th Street." Their graffiti tags can be found on houses next door to each other.
School police are joining forces with city police, the Sheriff's Department, and the county attorney's office to combat the shared problem.
"If we can encourage kids not to join gangs, or if we can brainstorm as far as trying to help kids have alternatives to joining gangs, then that's our main goal," Mark Johnson, Jacksonville police chief, said.
Authorities hope the new anti-gang task force will help achieve that goal.
The court system is also doing its part in taking a stand against gangs. The 16-year-old student accused in the stabbing received a unique sentence, the first of its kind in the county. The student will serve the first part of in juvenile prison, then move to the adult prison system to serve the remainder of it.