Of the seven recognized gangs in California, Norteños and Sureños are the two present in Placer County.
Norteños and Soreños are warring gangs. Each has an ever present and almost obsessive goal of killing people in the other gang. Anyone at Juvenile Hall can tell you that. They are not shy about giving warning signs of their gang affiliation. You just need to know where to look.
The names of the gangs reflect their history of having all Hispanic members. Today, they have evolved and integrated many additional ethnicities into their membership.
New members are recruited with the promise of money, women, cars and protection. A growing gang trend is their involvement with human trafficking, the fastest growing illegal undertaking in our country. The high profit in sexual slavery, which is the most common type of human trafficking occurring in Placer County, is what is drawing more gangs into the business.
Gangs in California originated in prisons, usually for providing protection to their members. The “Generals” at the highest level direct the gangs from state prisons.
In the late 1980s, the first laws to address gang activity were enacted in California (Penal Code 186.22), and stipulate that a person who participates in a “criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in criminal gang activity” is grounds for arrest.
Some of the signs of membership in gangs are pretty obvious. Many members have tattoos of the gang name in obvious places and printed very large and are easy to spot. More subtle signs of gang membership are through colors and numbers.
The Nuestra Family, or Norteños, started in Soledad prison in Monterey County. Norteños dress in red and identify with the number 14 because the letter “n” is the 14th letter in the alphabet. Many times they use dots to code the number 14. One dot stands alone and another four dots are in a row or clustered close by.
The Sureños, part of the Mexican Mafia, started near Tracy in San Joaquin County. Sureños adopted the color blue and the letter “m.” Their code name, El Eme, is Spanish for the letter “m” and their code number is 13. A member of the Sureños Tiny Locos in Roseville was arrested in 2013 in a shootout with law enforcement in downtown Roseville. This man had “Roseville Tiny Locos” tattooed in large letters across his stomach.
We are lucky that much criminal activity, including gang activity, is modest in Placer County compared to other areas in the state. Recently, gang members from Stockton were arrested for stealing parts from a car in Roseville. When asked why they came all the way up here to commit their crimes, they said that we “have better stuff up here.” Apparently, we also have alert citizens and law enforcement. A citizen who witnessed suspicious activity around some parked cars reported it to the police, which resulted in their arrest.
If you suspect gang activity, you can call your local law enforcement agency or if you are observing a crime in progress, call 9-1-1. Some local jurisdictions have graffiti abatement programs that respond to reports of gang graffiti. General questions about gangs can be answered by calling Placer County Sheriff’s office Intelligence Unit in the Corrections Division at (530) 745-8527.
Randi Swisley is president of the League of Women Voters Placer County.