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Hybrid Gangs Forming In North County


How are the gang problems in the North County different from the issues that exist in the City of San Diego, and the South Bay?

How are the gang problems in the North County different from the issues that exist in the City of San Diego, and the South Bay? We speak to reporter Ana Tintocalis about gang violence in North County, as part of her ongoing series San Diego Gang Stories.


Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News Reporter.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. When we think of where gangs are located in San Diego, the communities of the North County may not be the first locations that spring to mind. But, as KPBS reporter, Ana Tintocalis, has already told us here on These Days, her series, San Diego Gang Stories, has found gang activity all around San Diego County. Today, Ana is here to talk about the unique aspects of the gangs in the North County. And Ana, good morning.

ANA TINTOCALIS: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So how many gangs exist in North County?

ANA TINTOCALIS: Well, this is based from the North County gang task force. And there are roughly 30 known gangs in North County. Now, that fluctuates because gangs are transitory, they come in, they go out, it's an ebb and throw. But there's 30 known gangs and the highest number of gangs that live in the North County live in Oceanside. There's about 13 documented gangs and those are the oldest and much entrenched gangs in the North County. Escondido has four. So that's kind of second on the list. San Marcos has two, and it's interesting, like you said, I don't think people really think of north coastal North County to have a criminal element. They think of big houses luxurious coast lines and so on and so forth. But Encinitas and Carlsbad each have one documented gang that reek havoc in that area and Solana Beach has two. So when you break out the numbers you see that this is spread out all over North County and in some places where you might think is safe.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I'm wondering what is unique if anything is about the gang problems in North County?

ANA TINTOCALIS: So when you talk about gangs, you know, there's these common elements all over the place of there's gang violence, activity, drug dealings, stabbings, shootings so that takes place in North County too as it does in San Diego. I think what's interesting and police have told me is that North County does have about the same level of gang activity and violence as the city of San Diego. The problem is, North County is so vast, it is spread out, there's more geographical ground to cover. So it seems like there's not as big of a problem because it is more spread out, whereas in the city of San Diego, it's so concentrated, you see it some people see it on their front door step. So that's an interesting angle. I think the other thing is, North County has gang injunctions, what are called gang injunctions and it's a police tool. There are bans on gang members from congregating in certain areas or communities. And North County has the highest amount of gang injunctions in San Diego County. San Diego only has five and North County has 14. But what has that caused is that it's spread out the problem. So a Vista gang member, you know, there's a gang injunction in Vista, they can't hang out in Vista. So what they do is they take their homies and their crime and they go to Escondido or they go to Oceanside and vice versa. And Escondido, north, you know, gang injunction is slapped on a couple gang members, well, they can't hang out on their neighborhood streets so they'll go to Carlsbad or Encinitas. So you see this transitory pattern, and again, it's spreading out the problem issue it's dispersing it. And one police officer said, you know, it kind of feels like they're victims of their own success. You know, these gang injunctions seem to be helping in one specific neighborhood but it's caused a bigger problem.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. So if a Vista gang is not allowed to congregate let's say in a Vista park is goes to another community, and let's say an Escondido gang goes to Vista are they also subject to that injunction or can they stay there?

ANA TINTOCALIS: They can stay there. An injunction only carries with it that community identity. So as a Vista gang member, like you were saying, is part of a gang injunction in Vista, that's for that area. But it doesn't stay with them when they move around. They can congregate and move around in other areas of North County. And this is the big problem that they're trying to tackle in North County because cities have been trying to attack the problem in their own little ways, you know, fighting their own fights, but really this fight is regional.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So I read that one of the things that is developing in the North County because of these injunctions is something called a hybrid gang. What is that?

ANA TINTOCALIS: Yeah, this is actually quite fascinating. You know, obviously not in a good way. But what you have are gang members, because they're transitory, they're coming in contact with each other a little bit more. So you're having gangs from opposite ends of North County meeting, you know, in say, Vista, right? And some of them are putting their allegiance aside and saying let's form our own gangs so where you have rival gang members who would normally kill each other on the street, would assault each other, beat each other down, are now working together to commit crimes. And the other interesting thing in North County is that, you know, these gangs originally formed to protect their ethnic enclaves. In North County there's a high preponderance of Hispanic gangs, Samoan gangs, and black gangs. So they were created to protect their turf, to protect their cultural identity. But that's not the case anymore. Gangs are all about criminal enterprises. They are they are all about protecting their sources of revenue and their money. And a lot of that, you know, has ties to Mexico. They're smuggling weapons, they're smuggling people, they're drug dealing, they're pushing heroin and all kinds of drugs all over the country, and they're controlling large prostitution rings. So any threat to those sources of revenue, you're gonna have a really, you know, big fight on your hands within the gang.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How are law enforcement agencies responding to this sort of hybrid gang that you're describing.

ANA TINTOCALIS: Quite frankly, I think there's a sort of a NIMBY attitude in North County, this problem is not in my backyard, that's over there. East North County, Vista, Escondido, San Marcos, I think they're seeing it more readily, and they're begun to put together well, it's been in the works, but it seems like their operations are taking more of a hold. It's called a North County Gang Task Force, and it's this idea of looking at North County, not with city boundaries when it comes to the gang issue, that this is one gang issue, and we have to attack it on all gang fronts.

So you're seeing all kinds of police law enforcement, CHP, gang specialists, regular cops, coming together and trying to pinpoint arrest and charge gang members in this fashion. But they still have a lot of work to do. They received a state grant to get these operations going, but it is I think it really does come down to city officials acknowledging in certain cities say, like in Encinitas and saying, yes, we have a gang problem, and we have to contribute to this regional approach.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How are the gangs recruiting new members?

ANA TINTOCALIS: That's also fascinating. I'm hoping with the San Diego gangs project that I can delve into that a little more. But you know, a lot of the gangs are born into the gangs it is passed down from generation to generation. A father will be a main leader of a gang, the market might be affiliated with a gang or a gang member herself. Brothers and sisters are gang members so it's just a way of life. What is what we consider shocking and just amazing in terms of shootings and going to prison, and all that stuff, is normal for these for these young people. So it is it's like going to college for them. Going to prison is like going to college. Just something you have to do. Other kids are just troubled youth, you know, they come from dysfunctional families. Poverty has so much to deal and is connected to gang problems here, you know, there's not safe places to hang out. They don't have money for after school programs or for day care. So they want to belong. You know, they want to have love from somewhere and if it comes from this gang then they'll attach onto it.

And I brought a clip with me. Of this is we're calling him Jose because he is a documented gang member in Oceanside and he's afraid of retaliation. We distorted his voice as well. But his father is a big gang leader and serving a lot of time now. Of he's part of the Mexican mafia which is the prison gang behind bars now. And this is what he said about why he joined a gang.

NEW SPEAKER(AUDIO CLIP): "I always used to see them, you know, like the tattoos on their heads, faces, whatever, you know, and I was just, you guys are my heroes. When I was a little kid, that's what I wanted to be. I thought they were like super heroes you know? I wanted to be just like them. And there's a saying, get them while they're young, you know? Because that's when you can still bring them. Get them in juvenile hall, get them in the system, that way they're in the system and they're used to it, 13, 12, you know?

ANA TINTOCALIS: And police say they are seeing young kids. As young as six years old, one police officer told me that, you know, they do these visits to school to try to steer kids away from gangs and they were called to the principal's office and they said, you know, we think we have a young child here who is either gang affiliated or he's going to join a gang, and this young kid, he was 11 years old had a tattoo on his hand already, it's a three dot tattoo, it's associated with a Hispanic gang, it shows allegiance to the gang, and they found out that his mother's boyfriend who's in a gang tattooed this young kid with a pencil, with a pencil graphite. And they, you know, went to the house and sure enough this younger brother, six years old, had the same tattoo behind his ear. And that's what you're saying, it's so engrained and it's so part of their life that they don't see anything else.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Ana, you've worked to create a map for our website of where all the gangs are located in the county of that's the motivation behind doing that?

ANA TINTOCALIS: So this map is very cool, and I want to thank the KPBS web team for doing this. The goal of the San Diego Gang Stories Project is quite simple. It's to raise awareness, it's to kind of make people understand that gangs are not concentrated in one inner city neighborhood in San Diego. This is a regional problem that touches all kinds of lives. And so the map is a way to show users, viewers, listeners, you can go on the map, you can scroll to your city and find out how many documented gages are in your city. And in doing so, I'm hoping that, you know, that will maybe create some conversations at home. Maybe it will get a mother to talk to her son about what's going on at school, spend more time about talking about the threats at school. Maybe it will get someone to join their neighborhood watch association and look out for this type of stuff, because it is in our neighborhood. You know, I see myself that there's five known gangs in my vicinity. And I see the tagging when I drive by. And you think it's it's kind of removed from you, right? You see the tagging it's removed from you. But once you see the numbers and once you hear the stories, you realize that it is present, and I think that's the goal of this map is to put a face on this problem because I feel like we are so distanced from it in our daily lives.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the things though, on the map, is that you're not going to include the names of the specific gangs. Why is that?

ANA TINTOCALIS: Right. We went back and forthwith this editorially. There was one line of thinking that if we want to let people know about the gang presence in their neighborhood, let's list the names of these gangs. But there's also a sensitivity to that because gangs thrive on getting their name out there. Of their note right, their intimidation, how large they are. So in a sense, it would be kind of playing into that. So here at KPBS, we decided to keep the names from, you know, the map and just list the number of map, and if you live in a neighborhood where there's a gang injunction, you'll see that as well. And I still think it gives folks a good understanding of the problem without feeding into that whole gang issue of, you know, living large and getting their name out there.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: : And finally, Ana, I know that you're gonna be doing a blog post about the five top gangs in San Diego County. I would suppose that you're gonna be naming those gangs.

ANA TINTOCALIS: Absolutely yeah. So when we take a look at the known gangs, San Diego obviously tops the list, it has 89 known gages and you can see the break out based on city divisions, Oceanside is next, then Lemon Grove interestingly enough, has eight documented gangs and that's a small little city for having so many gangs and police say they live in our area, and they claim the territory in our city, but they're committing a lot of crimes in neighboring cities, you know. They might live here but they're committing all kinds of crimes in and around Lemon Grove.

So that was quite fascinating to see. Then Chula Vista is next on the list followed by national city. And that, again, is some more of the report think that I'll be doing with the San Diego gangs project is taking a look at the cross border connections of gangs to the South Bay, Chula Vista, National City, and San Ysidro.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You can hear more of reporter, Ana Tintocalis, San Diego Gang Stories coming on KPBS Radio, TV, and on our website Ana thank, you so much.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If you'd like to comment, please do go on line, And stay with us for hour two of These Days, coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

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