KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) – The Kinston Police Department addressed gang violence in the community Thursday night with its first gang awareness symposium.

Kinston’s Police Chief Keith Goyette said the symposium had been in the works since January. After months of planning, hosting the first gang violence symposium was another way to try to tackle crime and provide education.

“For me, I’m very unique to it as a law enforcement officer as well, so it’s one of those things where you learn to make sure you are aware at all times of what’s going on,” Hardy said.

Kinston police say there are 14 identifiable gangs in the city.

“We do have a gang issue here in Kinston,” Goyette said. “You know, whenever you have violent crime, I think it’s important to get your head out of the sand. Let’s go ahead and address these issues and offer ways we are going to attack the issues.”

The Kinston Police Department held the symposium at the Gate of Lenoir County, a community center. The department had been hard at work, Goyette said, learning how to combat gang violence.

“Putting a VCAT unit together, which is a violent crime action team together, sending our officers to gang awareness classes, basic and advanced gangs, as well as the gang conference, teaching gang awareness in our school system,” Goyette said.

The symposium taught Kinston residents valuable skills, Goyette said. It also provided good news with a 75% reduction in murder, a 50% reduction in gang-related shootings and a 58% increase in weapon seizures.

Hardy agreed this event helps citizens.

“It’s needed because some don’t understand what gangs are doing, how they recruit their children, what colors to look for, what signs,” Hardy said.

Hardy added gang violence can exist in many different places, not just one location.

“It can be anywhere. They could be talking to gang members inside the school. They could put for the summer talking to them or affiliated or hanging around, you know, that type of thing. So, it’s all about where your child is, you know, it can happen wherever your child is,” Hardy said.