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San Diego Gang Stories Retrospective

A group of suspected gang members are detained for investigation.
Glacier Tim
A group of suspected gang members are detained for investigation.
San Diego Gang Stories Retrospective
What's the gang world like in America's Finest City? For several months, KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis has been compiling a series of reports that she calls San Diego Gang Stories. It explains local gangs through the eyes of the people who come in contact with them. For the next hour, we'll bring you a special report that incorporates this series of Gang Stories.

What's the gang world like in America's Finest City? For several months, KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis has been compiling a series of reports that she calls San Diego Gang Stories. It explains local gangs through the eyes of the people who come in contact with them. For the next hour, we'll bring you a special report that incorporates this series of Gang Stories.



Ana Tintocalis, KPBS Reporter and Jacobs fellow

See how many gangs are located in each city in San Diego County

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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. On the surface, San Diego may not seem like a hotbed of gang activity. Our younger population is better known for being surfers, skate borders or hanging out at the beach. But on closer inspection, you can see signs of gangs just about everywhere from tagged over passes to young girls on the streets working for their gang pimps. Of the for several months, KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis has been compiling a series of reports that she calls San Diego Gang Stories. It explains local gangs through the eyes of the people who come in contact with them. We're about to bring you a special report that incorporates this series of gang stories, but first I'd like to welcome reporter Ana Tintocalis, good morning, Ana.

TINTOCALIS: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So why did you want to do this series of reports on gangs?

TINTOCALIS: Right. Well, I'm an education reporter here at KPBS. I'm not a crimes or gangs reporter. But in my education reporting time and time again, I heard of stories, and personal accounts of gang violence touching the lives of young people, and it was from student, it was from parent, school officials, and I thought there was a bigger story to tell there, you know, something that transcended the school grounds. You'd hear of gang members recruiting middle school students after school or a drive by shootings claiming the lives of these innocent teenagers, and it was something that struck me as something we haven't done here at KPBS, taking a hard look at gangs in San Diego County. So KPBS gave me the opportunity to explore this issue for about six months as part of this kind of innovative fellowship, and the result was, as you mention, this collection of stories that really tells the collective experience of gangs in our county. I didn't want to single in on one particular community. You know, the communities south of the eight, and I began to realize this was everywhere, you know, from rural areas like Fallbrook to the coast, Solana Beach, Encinitas, to the U.S. Mexico border. And so the culmination, which we'll hear in a couple minutes here, is a collection of these stories.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, was it hard to get people, kids, to open up to you to talk about gangs?

TINTOCALIS: You know, yes and no. I found that once I sat down with these gang members, and kind of earned their trust, they were very open about telling me their personal struggles, coming from dysfunctional homes where moms and dads were not in the picture or there was severe substance abuse or physical abuse at home. And they were hope with telling me about getting into a gang, getting jumped in, the camaraderie they felt as being part of a gang. But they were also reflecting on their time in the gang. They also were very open about telling me this false sense of protection, this false sense of loyalty of being in a gang. What I found difficult to get out from them is the actual crimes that they had committed. And I think there was a sense of, you know, remorse and shame and regret. You know, but quite frankly at the same time, they were scared to tell me exactly what had gone on, either because they might incriminate themselves further or other people. Of in the gang world, snitches are the low of the low. And you know, gang members who tell other people about the gang world are considered snitches. And there's a sighing, snitches get stitches. Which means you will get hurt or you could possibly get killed if you rat us out or if you tell details about what we do. So I think when it came to, you know, brutal fist fights and shootings and stabbings, the crimes that they had either gotten locked up for, that was very difficult to get out of them. So that was the difficulty in sitting down with some of these young people.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis, we're about to hear a compilation of her San Diego Gang Stories, a series of reports that she's been doing over the last six months. When you wept into this, Ana, when you first approached this as a topic. Did you have some preconceived notions? What duck about gangs?

TINTOCALIS: Right. I mean, I knowledge what I knew about gangs is what I think many people know about gangs, which is not a lot. You know, you hear the headlines, you read about the headlines, and you see it on TV, drive by shootings and you always take pause when you hear about that. Especially when young people die. But you just don't know the level of the extent of the presence here in San Diego. And that's again what I came away with is that this is an everywhere problem in San Diego County. No matter where you live, and in trying to demonstrate that fact, we came up with an interactive map for this project. And so people can go to, and they can look and pin point where they live and find out how many gangs are in their neighborhood. And the goal with that was not to scare people but to bring aware business that, yes, you might have 2, 3, 4 gangs in your community. So in knowing that information trying to encourage some personal action. You know, sit down with your child and talk about what's going on at school. If you're a teacher, try to reach out to every young mind in your classroom, so they stay in school. If you're a policy maker or some type of community leader, realize that this is a social issue and that we need to address it in any kind of personal way that you can. Because I think people think of San Diego as this place of sun and surf, but underneath that superficial lair is really a deeply interned gang world. And it's in the like these gangs are a flash in a pan. These gangs have been here for generations. And they span all kinds of racial lines. We have Samoan gangs, we have black gangs, Hispanic gangs, we have Asian gages. And more and more we're having these spin off gangs where they're connecting directly with drug cartels in Mexico. So these are some of the things I found out in my coverage.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the things that struck me about your coverage and one of the things that we're about to hear in this compilation of reports is what a big money making operation gangs on are.

TINTOCALIS: Right, that was the other thing. I think gangs are known, obviously, for dealing drugs, [CHECK] but what I also found out in one of the stories that really touched me is that gangs are pimping out young girls and they seduce them, they either bring them in by seducing them or by force. They will literally grab young girls off the streets. They will commit physical harm to these young girls, and they are locked into this life of prostitution. And just as technology has revolutionized our lives, they've revolutionized the lives of gang members, gang members are using Facebook to recruit young people. When it comes to pimping and pandering, they're posting these young girls on numerous websites. So these girls don't have to walk the streets anymore. These gang members are physically posting them on line and taking them to a John's house. And it's very discrete now. And it's making them a lot of money. Pimping young girls is now the number two way gangs are getting money. And that money goes back into the gang so they can buy drugs, so they can buy weapons and whatever type of luxury items, that you know, pimps are known to have.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I remember doing a show with you about one of your reports, and I remember we had a call in from a mother who was absolutely desperate. She was choking back tears on the line wanting to know how to keep her child out of a gang because apparently he was being heavily recruited. Of that's part of a story we don't hear a lot about too.

TINTOCALIS: Yeah. And one of the stories, and in this special broad cast that we're gonna had are, these are the stories that really rose to the top. There were numerous stories that I did as part of the project, and one of the stories was of two mothers, Monique tailor or Monique palmer's mother, and Michael Taylor's mother. And these two young people were gunned down senselessly in southeast San Diego, and these mothers came on this show. And you could just hear the emotional destruction that had had in their lives. And you know, for parents, again, I think there's this sense that it's not my daughter, it's not my son. They are not in gangs. I don't see any type of signs. But the reality is that kids keep a lot from their parents. And their lives in school could be very different from what a parent might see in the homes. And that -- bringing those two mothers on the show really demonstrated that they thought everything was fine. And everything was fine. But these young kids were going out at night to go to a party which many young kids do. They sneak out, and against curfew, and they get caught in these situations where a stray bullet hits them and they die. And so again as part of this series, it was really letting parents know that this is an issue you have to talk to your kids about. And you have to see the warning signs. Because I've heard from numerous police officials and school officials that it's not a type of student, you know? It's not always the low income, minority student. It could be young people who get into drugs, and then that kind of spins off to a number of other connections in the wrong crowd, which they get caught up into.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Some of the people who guided you through this world to find the people to talk to and the stories that you developed work with kids to get them out of gangs. And to try to stop them getting into gangs in the first place. How successful are these efforts.

TINTOCALIS: You know, I think they have been quite successful. The good news in the silver lining in all of this is that gauge related homicides have gone down quite considerably, at least in the City of San Diego. Now, that doesn't mean that there's not gang related assaults, again, beat downs, shooting, stabbings, and it could be that someone gets shot just don't want get killed. But there is a sense that community groups are working more closely, more than ever before with police. And we'll hear some of these stories in this special broad cast. People like Tracy Thompson who was a former gang member turned community leader. Now he's a principal trying to reach out to kids at risk. You'll hear from Andrew Bye who's a teacher at what they call a juvenile court and community school. And he teaches these young people who get out of juvenile hall that there's a better way of life. And there's a number of these kind of local heroes that are really on the ground level trying to do their best. And I think that has contributed to this decrease in the amount of really violent acts that we're seeing by gangs. Again, I don't want to see -- I don't want to say that it's not still happening, it's just there's been a decrease in all of that. And you know, I wanted to just mention that the way I got connected to a lot of these gang members was through social workers. A lot of gang members get referred to social workers or caseworkers once they get out of juvenile hall. Or through school intervention programs and these social workers were key in helping me gain the respect and the trust with these fellow gang members. And they -- the social workers also gave me a lot of information that police didn't want to give me. Police were very wary was giving me the actual names of gangs, the rival factions going on, because they didn't want to glorify certain gang names. I mean that's -- the gangs live off of note right. And they didn't want me to have that information, whereas the social workers realize in order for people to understand the issue, you have to get that information out. So they were really key in my reporting. The other thing I wanted to mention, you asked about whether or not gang members were hesitant in telling their story. And you'll hear in this special broad cast that nearly all of the gang members didn't give me their real name. I mean, I got it off record, but for the sake of protecting them, because there is a threat of danger in talking to a journalist, we did have to either use a fictitious name or just use their first name or in one case, in one story, in North County, we actually had to distort one of the gang members' voices. So you'll hear that, and it just teaks to the real level of danger in doing this kind of reporting. And for the other folks that put their lives on the line to tell this story.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think one of the most emotional of a lot of emotional elements in these gang story, Ana, were the -- what you can hear in the vises of kids who are intimidated by gangs. They're afraid. They're afraid to go to school. They're afraid in their own neighborhoods of that's something that you must have seen face-to-face in kids living with day after day.

TINTOCALIS: Yeah, in one of the stories you'll hear is this gang members who are trying to get back into school. And a huge thing for a gang member to even want to get back to school in the gang world, education is seen as a waste of time. And that the way to earn respect is through physical violence, not by going to school. So these gang members have to cross rival territories just to get an education, and they get jumped, 2, 3, times a week because the rifles know where they're going and how to get them. They are very diligent in finding out where they go to after school. And you know, just -- just the fact that they want to try to turn their life around yet they might get killed by just trying to get to school was something that really struck me. And the other issue is you'll hear in another story, one of the young girls who got caught up in this world of prostitution through a gang pimp, she was very scared to tell her story because there is a -- her gang pimp is locked upright now, but is soon to be released some time this year. She's living in hiding. And it was hard for her to explain all the details of that. And I actually had to meet her kind of in an alleyway. And bee talked in my car because she didn't want anyone to know where she was at in talking to me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, let's hear them, then. Ana, thank you for speaking with us this morning. I appreciate it.

TINTOCALIS: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And now we bring you San Diego Gang Stories, a These Days special report.

NEW SPEAKER: Gangs are out at night. That's mainly when the kill other gangs.

NEW SPEAKER: I buried at least 12 children in comparison to one graduation.

NEW SPEAKER: Then he just said face down, put your face down, and I literally thought I was gonna get killed there.

NEW SPEAKER: This is San Diego Gang Stories.

NEW SPEAKER: This is San Diego Gang Stories, a special report.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: San Diego is known for its sun and surf, but underneath that pleasant exterior lies a deeply interned gang world, from the North County to the U.S. Mexico border. In this hour KPBS reporter, Ana Tintocalis, takes you on a journey through San Diego County, tapping into the untold and often overlooked stories about gangs in our communities. You'll hear from the gang members themselves, and local residents. So stay with us as San Diego Gang Stories continues after the break.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to San Diego Gang Stories, a These Days special report. For the rest of this hour, KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis brings us a collection of stories about how gangs affect our region. A recent study shows there are 170 gangs in San Diego County. And 7000 gang members of that's an increase from the year before. Our journey begins in San Diego. The city with the highest number of street gangs in the county, most claim midcity and southeastern communities. That's where we meet a young girl by the name of jasmine. This is her story.

NEW SPEAKER: This is a picture of my niece. She's a daughter of my older sister.

TINTOCALIS: Photos of bright eyed babies hang on the walls of jasmine's house of she's one of six kids in her family. Jasmine holds up a photo of a happier time.

NEW SPEAKER: Here's a picture of all of us, my sister and her wedding, none of us were any gains, everything was perfect.

TINTOCALIS: Jasmine, not her real name, is 20 years old. Among her many tattoos are a cross and a rosary. Jasmine lives with her mom in Logan Heights, just east of downtown San Diego. Jasmine's mom is from Guatemala. She works long hours cleaning houses to take care of the family. Jasmine's dad is not in the picture. She says her mom tried her best but would often beat her kids to keep them in line.

NEW SPEAKER: I don't hate her for that. I used to, when I was under the influence, I used to hate her. I wished for her to die, and I really hated her.

TINTOCALIS: Jasmine and one of her older sisters turned to drugs to escape. She did meth, her sister heroin. She says things really began to unravel when her sister started hanging out with the neighborhood street gangs. She would beat jasmine and threaten her mom.

NEW SPEAKER: I would just sit there and take it because I never thought, like, I could hit her back. She would bring hell in this house. It was hell. Like, she would just be, like, telling my mom to die, you know, she's a -- she's a -- I couldn't stand her talking to my mom like that.

TINTOCALIS: Ironically, jasmine followed in her sister's foot stoops. Researchers say following family members into gangs is typical. Since all she knew was violence, jasmine found herself beating up on her little brothers and other kids at school. Jasmine says the only people who accepted were other gang members of now she says using her fists is the only way she knows how to community. Just three weeks ago, she got into a fight with a rival gang member, and I grabbed him, and I slammed his head on the wall again and again and again and again. 'Cause when I'm gonna fight, I'm gonna fight till you really get hurt. And that's why I really don't like fighting because I really fight really savage.

TINTOCALIS: Gang specialists say many kids join gangs because they come from dysfunctional homes where there is physical, mental, or sexual abuse. There might be drug dealing or prostitution. Others live in poverty, which jasmine says leads to a life of committing crime.

NEW SPEAKER: People don't understand that if our parents kick us out, we need to go steal something. Yeah, I've stolen cars before, yeah, I've stolen things from cars to sell them because I was hungry. I needed to do that. Like, I needed to survive.

TINTOCALIS: And in a gang family, going to prison becomes an accepted way to life, like going to college. But even jasmine admits, gangs offer a false sense of protection. Fellow gang members can turn on you.

NEW SPEAKER: You never know, when you bump into that person, they'll look at you, they remember your face, next time they're gonna be on something, they're gonna have a gun or a knife, and when you least expect it. That's request I watch my surroundings, and I watch who I talk to. 'Cause, you know, I love my life, and I love living, and I -- I love what I have around me, and the people I have around me, and that doesn't matter whether they're from gangs or not.

TINTOCALIS: One of her sisters is searching eight years in prison for assault. Her little brother is in juvenile hall for a crime she didn't want to reveal. He's just 15 years old. Jasmine says her biggest regret is passing the gang lifestyle onto her little brother.

NEW SPEAKER: Damn, I beat my brother down, I never said sorry to him, I cut him, I threw a plate at him, and slit his leg own. And my cousin'd just sit there and watch, and I'd be like, how come nobody stopped me? Yeah, how come nobody stopped me, you know?

NEW SPEAKER: San Diego Gang Stories, fact: Research shows kids typically join gangs when they're just 13. They tend to come from gang families with older brothers, sisters or cousins being active gang members.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You can follow us on twitter or post a comment about gang violence and its effects on your neighborhood by going to Days. Now, from San Diego, our journey takes us south to Chula Vista. That's where we meet one of the many girls in San Diego County victimized by a so called gang pimp. KPBS reporter, Ana Tintocalis, tells us how prostitution is now the new drug for local street gangs.

TINTOCALIS: Elena is an attractive woman in her early twenties of she's lived in San Diego for most of her life. Her dad is an alcoholic and drug addict, Elena, not her real name, learned to take care of herself at the age of five. By 14, she was pregnant. Elena took odd jobs until she was about 18. That's when she met reality.

NEW SPEAKER: Reality is the pimp. That's his name. He used to be my neighbor. He lived right in the back of the house we rented.

TINTOCALIS: Reality is also a gang member who belongs to one of the most violate street gangs in San Diego. He's been in and out of prison for selling drugs. Elena says she fell in love with reality, he would tell her that he wanted to change his life, and that he was tired of selling drugs.

NEW SPEAKER: Just one night after working he told me, just get really pretty, get some heels, get really pretty, I'm gonna take you out. That's what I did. I got really pretty.

TINTOCALIS: But to her surprise, Elena was taken to a hotel parking lot in national city.

NEW SPEAKER: He parked and you said you see that girl? She's getting her money. And he told me, basically, she was a prostitute. And then he said, and you're about to do it too. And he said, you want to help me, right? You love me, right? Yeah, I love you, I want to help you. Then that's what we sa to do. I did it. I got out and I did it.

TINTOCALIS: Elena says that night led to three years of hell, being forced to have sex with 10 to 15 men a day. Getting beaten by her gang pimp boyfriend, and transported to cities outside of California to have sex with men. Elena says she tried running away once. But her pimp, Reality, called on his gang to track her down.

NEW SPEAKER: He beat me upright there on the street. People watching issue I mean, they're so afraid of these gangs that they don't do nothing.

TINTOCALIS: Elena is not alone. San Diego police say more gang members are pimping girls in exchange for big money. Police refer to them as gang pimps. Prostitution is now the second largest source of income for San Diego gangs. Dealing drugs is number one.

NEW SPEAKER: We're not after prostitutes. We are after pimps.

TINTOCALIS: Gretchen Means is a San Diego County deputy assistant district attorney who is aggressively prosecuting gang members for pimping she says pimping is prostitution have replaced selling crack and cocaine because gang members can sell a girl again and again. Police say one prostitute can make $500 to $1,000 a night. Mean says the girls don't see a dime of that money. It all goes back to the gang's criminal enterprise, so its members request buy drugs and weapons of mean says it's the prostitutes who take all the risks.

NEW SPEAKER: With drug sales or gun running, it is the gang members themselves that take all the risk with getting caught. With prostitution, it is the girls. They take all the risk with law enforcement, with their body, it's not unknown for these women to go through multiple abortions, through multiple STDs, not to mention rape.

NEW SPEAKER: Gonna get a little show for the camera. Yeah, you guys are paying for that! That's right, you gotta pay for that!

TINTOCALIS: The Internet has also revolutionized the way gangs commit this crime, as heard by this clip from San Diego police. Jason King is in charge of San Diego's Anti Human-Trafficking task force. He says gang members are pimping girls on numerous websites.

NEW SPEAKER: So now you can go on-line and you can view different girls, and you can order them, and they'll come right to your home. And nobody knows.

TINTOCALIS: Even when a pimp gets busted, police say there are plenty of beginning gang members who take their place. King says today's media culture glamorizes the pimping lifestyle which helps to recruit new men.

NEW SPEAKER: We almost idolize it. We talk about how, you know, he's controlling girls and he's making all this money, and he's are victims. These are people that are being exploited. They're having to do horrific things for that.

TINTOCALIS: San Diego is now leading the way in prosecuting gang pimps. The DA's office is tacking on extra prison time to gang members who are arrested for pimping. That gang penalty also makes the conviction a felony under California's three strikes rule.

NEW SPEAKER: San Diego Gang Stories, fact: San Diego is eighth among U.S. cities in a comparison of child prostitution is pimping cases. Sex trafficking is now the second fastest growing criminal enterprise nationwide behind drugs.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to a special These Days report about gangs in San Diego County. Coming up, we turn our attention to the U.S. Mexico border as well as North County.

NEW SPEAKER: I just always used to see them, like the tattoos on their heads, faces, oh, whatever, that's what I wanted to be. Like oh, you guys are my heroes, you know?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But first, we spend some time at a school that's unlike any other. The youth central center is it located in a nondescript building outside of downtown San Diego. 90 percent of its students are gang members or affiliated with gangs. These young people have served time in juvenile hall. As KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis says, this is their first and last chance of getting back into school.

TINTOCALIS: Probation officers wearing black jackets and pants roam the halls of the youth stay central center in Southeast San Diego. This center is like a transitional high school for kids who've just been released from juvenile hall. About 20 boys sit [CHECK] Mr. Bye is their teacher.

NEW SPEAKER: Open the books to page 440, if you'd be so kind. 440, please. Straight there.

TINTOCALIS: Police officers say roughly 90 percent of the students here are gang members. Students can't wear blue, red, or green. Those are gang colors. They're also routinely tested for drugs and searched daily for weapons of the students spend 2 to 3 months here as part of their probation before they get moved to a traditional school. Most haven't stepped foot in a classroom since they were 13 years old.

NEW SPEAKER: I was doing good up until I hit middle school.

TINTOCALIS: Robert is a 16-year-old gang member. He didn't want to give his last name for fear of retaliation. Robert started doing drugs when he was in seventh grade. He says that about the same time his girlfriend got pregnant.

NEW SPEAKER: And I just didn't go to school for, like, months and month. And I would end up over there in my neighborhood, and I would just get into deeper and deeper things.

TINTOCALIS: Robert has been locked up for numerous assaults, including a stabbing, shooting and fist fights of heap says in the gang world, you earn respect from your elders through physical violence, not by going to school.

NEW SPEAKER: They would tell me, don't go to school, don't go to school. Your life is all about the gang now. That's one thing they try to do is mess you up, and try to get you used to the fact of [CHECK] so you won't like it eventually.

TINTOCALIS: A recent report seems to back that up. The San Diego association of governments surveyed young people rated in 2009. Almost all said they were more likely to commit a crime after joining a gang. About 1-third said they wanted to get out of the gang, but many felt they couldn't because of retaliation. Teacher Andrew bye says for gang kids, getting locked up is I right of passage.

NEW SPEAKER: In our society, a rate of passage might be high school graduation. When that option no longer is as viable or seems attainable, that doesn't mean that they're going to stop looking for ways to become a man. It actually is the opposite. They're going to look for other ways where they're going to find that acceptance. And gangs are just right there.

TINTOCALIS: Bye his biggest challenge is convincing these kids that education can help them redefine themselves. He says many students here only see themselves as gang members.

NEW SPEAKER: Take a closer look, read your story, to get an overall grasp of it. [CHECK].

TINTOCALIS: Bye says more than 100 of his students have died as a result of gang violence. He says his ability to read warning signs can be a matter of life or death. Whether it's tagging on classroom walls or verbal attacks.

NEW SPEAKER: Two students across the room are saying things to each other very cryptically. Now, that altercation, very low profile altercation in a classroom could escalate to something very serious involving not just the two of them, but numerous people very, very quickly.

TINTOCALIS: Which is why bye makes a seating chart based on which gangs his students claim. He keeps enemies and friends separate. He also doesn't praise some students during class, because doing well in school can be considered a sign of weakness among gangs of Robert, the 16-year-old gang member we met earlier said he has to hide the fact he's going to school from his fellow gang members.

NEW SPEAKER: I look forward to coming here but sometimes I don't because --

TINTOCALIS: Robert looks down at the floor and sighs. He says just getting to school is a challenge.

NEW SPEAKER: I've been jumped at least more than eight times just for being here. It's pretty hard. Every day is different. You never know.

TINTOCALIS: Even so, Robert and other students here say they are determined to distance themselves from the gang lifestyle and get back into a regular school.

NEW SPEAKER: San Diego Gang Stories, fact: National crime statistics show that area cities with the highest number of gangs are San Diego, Oceanside, Lemon Grove, Chula Vista, and national city. Police say the good news is the number of gang related homicides in San Diego went down considerably in 2009. New.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You can check out or interactive map showing the number of gangs in your neighborhood by going to [CHECK] that's because they're working more closely with local community leaders. One such leader is Tracy Thompson. Thompson over sees the juvenile court school system in southeast San Diego. He's a former San Diego gang member who turned his life around. Tracy Thompson takes us on a tour into gang territory.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, I'm Tracy Thompson. Regional principal for the San Diego County Office of Education Juvenile Court Community Schools metro region. Born in Compton and raised in San Diego, southeast San Diego that I'm proud to represent. We all have a past that sometimes we are proud of, and sometimes that we're not so proud of. And first of all, being born to a 15-year-old mom, that wasn't a good thing at the time, she was kicked out the house. Which is why I was born in Compton. But we moved back to San Diego, growing up in skyline, we had some challenges with gangs and drugs, so my best friends who I had grownup with, some of them got involved. Eventually, one of my friends of getting jump indeed my presence, and I helped him out, and at that time my life kind of changed. 'Cause I didn't find glory, the esteem being a school boy. You know, in my neighborhood, doing good in school was acting white. Or why are you trying to be white? Nobody told me it was okay to be educated and be a strong, African American, black male. So all the pimps got all that [CHECK] it translates to what I'm doing, and what I want to do now, for the metro region which is predominantly southeast San Diego. When a child knows that you care or a parent knows that you care about a child, that's all it takes, for the first [CHECK] to be eliminated. And even though initially some students fight that off, like a baby spitting out medicine, I know they need it.

NEW SPEAKER: What I'm thinking about doing is showing you probably the southeast San Diego tour and also showing where our kids live. These are my roots. This is where my heart lies. [CHECK] back in Detroit, a place like that, there's big high rises, projects, we don't have them like that, but you have the same kind of mentality. And by day, it's peaceful and calm, and by night, things heat up. They'll go under the bridge here where you can't see it from the street. It's a little cubby hole, and because of the one way streets it's hard to navigate. So what I do is I've formed a relationship with the managers at jack and the box. I sit in that back little area there, and I can watch the street, watch the flow. So particularly after school, it's heavily populated. And you have kids from rival neighborhood mad dogging, throwing gang signs. It's a little bit high risk, LHRS, Logan Heights resident [CHECK] it's not turf anymore, it's more resources, money, drugs. That area here is called Sherman, Mexican gang Sherman. You go 1 Main Street over, it's Logan. So Sherman and Logan are rifles. The laundry mat there, the gang members did -- they sell dope. They're still up there. So you know [CHECK] they hide the dope in the driers. So all the guys here they're waiting around waiting for somebody to come purchase some dope. [CHECK] no one can know all the details. There's so such thing as an expert. 'Cause it could change as we speak. But if you focus on why, you have a better chance of curbing the behavior. There's no reason why any of my students cannot be productive students issue cannot go to college. And that's what we focus on. So we start collaborating with law enforcement, probation, community organizations, we have a better chance of curbing the violence in the neighborhood. And that's why we don't have the violence that we once had.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now we travel about 30 miles up to San Diego's North County. Home to scenic coastlines, quaint main streets, and suburban homes bump police say there is a severe gang problem there. KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis tells us how gangs are affecting lives in all corners of North County. Of her story begins in Oceanside.

NEW SPEAKER: This is my neighborhood. And I've been here for eight heres.

TINTOCALIS: Maria Russell is on the porch of her Oceanside home. Her dark skin is a stark contrast to her white hair. Russell lives on the east side of Oceanside, nicknamed Posole, after a Mexican soup.

NEW SPEAKER: There was a woman in the neighborhood that was carrying a little red wagon, and she would sell Posole, and she would go Posole, Posole. So it has a sweet connotation to it.

TINTOCALIS: But Posole has another meaning. Varrio Posole is the gang of the street gang in rustle's neighborhood. It's one of the 13 gangs in Oceanside. The initials VP are tagged on mailboxes, fences, and walls.

NEW SPEAKER: I see some of the older men that have probably records, hangs out on street corners, like, waiting. They have a certain call, like a whistle to warn each other, I guess if the police is coming or something like this. So you can tell there's something going on.

TINTOCALIS: The North County gang task force says there are close to 30 documented gangs in North County. About half of those gangs are in Oceanside. Escondido has the second highest number in the North County with four gangs. San Marcos and Solana Beach each have two gangs. Police say these gangs were formed years ago to protect certain ethnic groups of others were transplants from Los Angeles. Police and gang members say these groups are present in almost every city in North County.

NEW SPEAKER: By the beach, it's getting bad. San Marcos, Escondido. They're everywhere.

TINTOCALIS: Jose is a documented gang member in Oceanside. He asked us not to use his real name because he fears retaliation. Jose was born into a gang family. He was known as the maniac, the crazy one of he says most of the gangs in North County are Hispanic, Samoan, and black.

NEW SPEAKER: [CHECK] you're doing it for your cause, you know? It the community. Our community. We don't want people coming over and, like, chasing down a Mexican and beating them up 'cause he's Mexican. This is our neighborhood, your not gonna just chase a Mexican down. [CHECK] they're taking it too far, you know?

TINTOCALIS: Jose says gangs are now about protecting their money, not their turf. North County gangs are criminal enterprises, helping to smuggle weapons, push prostitutes and deal drugs all over the country. Jose says older gang members who are often strung out on drugs are recruiting kids at younger ages to do their dirty work in North County.

NEW SPEAKER: Get them while they're young, you know? 13, 12, get them used to going to juvenile hall, get them used to the system, that way when they go to prison, they're used to it.

NEW SPEAKER: Today we're targeting gang members. So we're out --

TINTOCALIS: Sheriff's Deputy Tim Clark and his partner patrol neighborhoods in Vista. The Vista Homeboys gang controls the city. They're also known as the Vista Heroin Boys because they use and sell the drug. Clark says bans on gangs congregating have helped to get some violate members off neighborhood streets. But he says now these gang members are disperse to other areas in North County.

NEW SPEAKER: So we've got gang members from Oceanside, gang members from San Marcos, gang members from Escondido moving to Vista. And vice versa. They move from city to industry. So we're spreading out all the gang members, and in sense, more potential for a bigger problem.

TINTOCALIS: That's because hybrid gang members are also developing of that's when rival gang members actually work together to commit crimes. Police say, 2 or 3 years will ago, these rifles would have killed each other on the streets. [CHECK] to gang activity, which looks at the problem beyond the boundaries of a city, but Clark says they still have a lot of work to do.

NEW SPEAKER: Gangs are gang. They're not gonna go away. But if we can put a damper on them, and keep the violate down, no stray bullets, no one gets hurt.

TINTOCALIS: City officials across the North County hope a soon to be completed study they have commissioned will shed new light on the changing gang problem in their communities.

NEW SPEAKER: San Diego Gang Stories, fact: A gang injunction bans members from hanging out in certain areas. Oceanside is now tied with Escondido in having the most gang injunctions in San Diego County.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and this is a special These Days report about gangs in San Diego County. Over the past hour, we've spent time in San Diego, Chula Vista, and North County. Now, we head south of the border. Street gangs historically lay claim to their own neighborhoods, but their allegiance now extends beyond their own turf and across the U.S. border. Export reporter Ana Tintocalis tells us how some local gang members have become the foot soldiers of Mexican drug cartels.

TINTOCALIS: Javier is a documented gang member in Oceanside, tattoos are scrawled along his arms and neck. Javier, not his real name, says he was born into a gang. He was known as the cook. Making and selling drugs for his gang family. His father is now serving time in a federal prison for drug trafficking. Javier says he knows first hand the link between San Diego street gangs and drug cartels.

NEW SPEAKER: I've heard, like, of job offers, you know, like go down to Mexico and bring someone's head to the person from the cartel, and they'll give you a million dollars and stuff like that. But I'm not -- I don't like to participate in anything like that, because there's not a guarantee that you're coming back with that million dollars. You can't trust the cartels.

NEW SPEAKER: Kidnappings, nows me worry that kind of extreme violence is it spilling into San Diego County as more gang members partner with Mexican drug cartels to do their dirty work. Mark Amador is a San Diego County district attorney.

NEW SPEAKER: When you get men to band together like that for criminal activities, violence occurs.

TINTOCALIS: Amador prosecutes transnational gang members of he says Hispanic [CHECK] deeply rooted criminal organizations with strong ties to the Arellano Felix cartel and other drug trafficking organizations. [CHECK] nefarious alliances to thrive from San Ysidro to Escondido. But most personal, he says, gang members and their cartel associates share a similar lifestyle. Intimidation, violence, and making money. Amador says for older gang members, money is thicker than blood.

NEW SPEAKER: They evolve into businessmen in the sense of that's now about not fighting with the local street gang rifles, but it's about making money for yourself and using the ties of the gang to your advantage. You know, you have the tattoos, you have the street credibility because you've been in and out of prison. It becomes solely a money making proposition.

TINTOCALIS: Police say over the past decade, gang members have gotten more involved in all aspects of drug trafficking of they smuggle cocaine, marijuana, meth, and other drugs into the country. They distribute them to dealers, they sell the drugs on the streets. Amador says what's even more alarming is more cartel members are shifting their operations to California because local street gangs already have a criminal network in place.

NEW SPEAKER: They set up shop in our communities in the United States and start committing the same type of cartel violence that they're used to. That's why we have this proliferation of kidnapping groups that we've seen in San Diego. Different crews who moved into San Diego where they have been able to recruit other gang members from San Diego.

TINTOCALIS: Even by gang standards she's spin off groups tend to be ruthless. One example is the Los Palios kidnapping crew. A rogue drug cartel leader moved to Chula Vista and recruited local gang members to carry out killings, kidnappings, and torture. Prosecutors are now seeking the death penalty against four of the members of Richard Valdemar [AUDIO] he says a disturbing trend is how cartels and gangs are recruiting young people to commit violent acts.

NEW SPEAKER: There's always a kid who wants to be the bad guy. And once they taste blood, they grow in their abilities to do violence until the first kind of violence is not satisfying anymore of it's like an addiction.

TINTOCALIS: Law enforcement officials say they're trying to crack down on transnational gangs of deputy DA mark Amador says he wants to protect San Diego from the violence that Tijuana has experienced.

NEW SPEAKER: It's terrorism in effect. And that's what we want to make sure doesn't happen in the you. That the spill over into San Diego doesn't result in anymore violence than it already has.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This has been San Diego Gang Stories, a special These Days report. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You can find all the stories of the San Diego Gang Stories project at That's where you can also find our interactive map, showing you the number of gangs in your neighborhood. If you'd like to comment on anything you've heard in this broad cast, post a message on line at Days. Now stay tuned for the second hour of These Days, just ahead here on KPBS.