Gang activity on the rise

Police say crimes more violent
By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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While the number of gang members has not grown since last year, the crimes committed by members have become more violent. That’s what the top two officers in the Lincoln Police Department told The News Messenger this week. And gang activity – including assaults and drive-by shootings – is on the rise in this city, according to Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren. “Officers have contact with known gang members on a daily basis,” Shelgren said. “It could be citizen contact, for investigations or for criminal activity. The criminal activity is for everything from graffiti to assaults. More are occurring that are not being reported.” Recent gang-related crimes include a stabbing three weeks ago, a shooting in the area of Sixth and B streets last July and a shooting that occurred on First Street last June. “According to my records, we have the same number of members as last year,” said Lincoln Police Lt. Dave Ibarra. “But we have seen an increase in violence this year. There was the shooting into a house that we believe was gang-related, off of 6th Street, near C Street last month. And we believe the stabbing at Third Street and Laehr Drive two weeks ago was gang-related.” In August 2011, Ibarra was quoted as saying that Lincoln has at least 50 Norteno and 50 Sureno gang members. Those numbers could be higher today, according to Shelgren. “Gang activity and criminal activity are major concerns,” Shelgren said. “Left unchecked, it can have devastating effects.” Today’s activity continues to be the Nortenos and Surenos fighting each other, according to Ibarra. “Most gang fights are fistfights but they got elevated two weeks ago to knives,” Ibarra said. “We also see handguns, which pose a threat to our citizens, who might get caught in the crossfire. That’s why it’s important to keep gang activity under control.” Residents tell Lincoln police that reducing gangs, residential burglary and illegal drug activity are their top concerns, according to Ibarra. A “hard-core” gang presence has been here since 2004, according to previous News Messenger reports. “Several times a month, we make arrests. We’re paying attention to the gang members and won’t tolerate their behavior,” Ibarra said. “We’re keeping gang activity down to a minimum. Our goal is to eliminate it completely but the gang presence is always there. It seems like we arrest a hard-core gang member and another individual takes that person’s place. It’s up to us to find out who these people are.” Although gang activity is “spread out” through Lincoln, according to Ibarra, problem areas exist. “There is activity between O Street and Joiner Parkway on 1st street, R street and Laehr Street, and the east side of town off of East Avenue,” Ibarra said. “There are pockets.” Lincoln’s gang members are “anywhere from as young as 12, 13 to their late 20s,” Ibarra said. Both gangs are Hispanic-based and throughout California, according to Ibarra. “The difference is that Norentos have been known to recruit Caucasian males and black males. But that’s not always the case. Every jurisdiction has its own trend,” Ibarra said. Law enforcement in other Placer County cities, such as Roseville, Rocklin and Auburn, are also trying to eliminate gangs. “Sometimes, their gang members are pushed to us because gang members think we’re not focusing on gang activity and it’s up to us to maintain the same level of enforcement,” Ibarra said. “When our officers see criminal street gang activity, they make an arrest. We stop the gang activity and prevent gang violence from happening. We focus on our hard-core gang members – we send a strong message through suppression efforts.” Those efforts include making arrests for criminal activity or for juvenile arrests or referrals to the juvenile probation department. Officers also spray over graffiti on a weekly basis. “If we allow the graffiti to remain on the walls, it tends to attract more graffiti, which leads to more violence,” Ibarra said. Police need public’s help What can the public do to help police mitigate the gang problem? “Anything helps, any information the public can give us. There are members of the public who are completely ignorant of gangs and others who are very aware of gang activity,” Ibarra said. “Tell us where graffiti is because we read it to see what the message is.” In past articles, some residents have said youth pretending to be tough are behind the graffiti. But that’s not the case, according to Ibarra. “The graffiti is not innocent tagging. A lot of it is directly related to gang activity and we read it on a regular basis to see what type of activity,” Ibarra said. “It could be Surenos or Nortenos tagging the wall to claim the territory. Other instances, it’s the other gang challenging them to a fight or a message that there’s a hit on a certain gang member. To us, most of it is more than kids tagging and messing around.” The public can also give police information, Ibarra said, “on particular gang members, if they’re here for a while or if they’re coming from outside and establishing roots and what kind of crimes are they committing or planning to commit, information if individual has a firearm or weapon or knife.” The Lincoln police take gangs seriously, both Ibarra and Shelgren said. But the police can’t battle gangs alone; Ibarra said a good partnership with the community is needed. “There are dangerous gang members hiding in Lincoln. If we get information from the community, we can focus on what types of activity they’re involved in, which may lead to an arrest,” Ibarra said. Warning signs that someone is in a gang There has been “very little gang activity” at Lincoln High and Phoenix Continuation schools, according to Ibarra. The News Messenger last reported on a gang-related fight at Lincoln High School in May 2009. A school resource officer started working at the high school the next year. But that position is being cut next year by the Western Placer Unified School District because of budget cuts. If parents suspect their children are being attracted to gangs, Ibarra suggests parents contact the police department or the nonprofit Redirect’s Juan and Karen Hernandez. “We’ll guide parents if they’re having a problem with kids going to a gang,” Ibarra said. “Look at their clothing. Nortenos’ color choice is red and use different clothing lines that come in red like the 49ers; Surenos wear blue or LA Dodgers. Other red flags would be if they’re listening to rap groups that are specifically rapping about gang activity and/or violence and hanging out with others who look like gang members.” Ibarra also suggests getting teens into Redirect, Police Activities League and the Lincoln Youth Center “to prevent them from getting in gangs.” Lincoln City Councilman Paul Joiner is active in the Police Activities League. “There does appear to be an uptick in gang-related activity in our area. Lincoln PD, as a result of budget-related staffing reductions, has by necessity become more reactive rather than proactive in their approach to the problem. They simply don’t have the resources to aggressively address the issue.” Organizations such as ReDirect and the Lincoln Police Activities League (PAL) work through the Lincoln Youth Center to identify and reach out to at-risk children, according to Joiner. “Many of these young men and women have no idea that there is another way to approach life,” Joiner said. “It’s never been modeled for them. I was shocked the first time I had a conversation with one of these young men and heard the ‘rules’ by which he lived his life. These rules had been passed down to him by family members, friends and culture ... he was simply behaving the way he was expected to by those around him.” What does the near future hold? No suspects have been named in the recent stabbing, according to Shelgren. He said the victim has not “been cooperative.” When victims won’t name suspects, that makes it harder for police to solve the crime. “It makes it very difficult to eliminate gangs if a victim doesn’t want to cooperate. In the past, we’ve had victims who knew who victimized them or assaulted them but wouldn’t cooperate because they have the mentality of street justice. They want to retaliate themselves instead of through the judicial system or law enforcement. That leads to more violence.” Because of budget cuts, Lincoln Police Department staffing has been reduced from the mid 40s to 20 now, according to Ibarra. Fighting the gangs is hard with fewer officers on staff, Ibarra said. “Our ability to fight this gang problem is directly tied to proper resources and staffing to cope with that problem. If we’re depleted to the point when we’re in a reactive mode, we don’t have time to look for gang activity,” Ibarra said. “I see our gang problem getting worse if we’re depleted any more from now. That will affect our quality of life and people won’t want to live here. They won’t feel as free to go out into the community as they do now.”