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Report Shows Concerns Growing Over San Diego Street Gangs

Report Shows Concerns Growing Over San Diego Street Gangs
Report Shows Concerns Growing Over San Diego Street Gangs
GUESTS:Cynthia Burke, Researcher, SANDAGCmdr. Mike Barletta, San Diego County Sheriff's Department

ALISON ST. JOHN: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Alison St. John, in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Today on Midday Edition we're talking about gangs. Crime was falling in San Diego but there are signs that it is on the rise again. The membership is a concern. A new report by the San Diego Association of governments goes into detail about who is joining gangs and why. My guest Cynthia Burke is back. Also Mike Barletta is here. Cynthia, this report is a little more detailed than previous reports, what is been happening in the last few years? CYNTHIA BURKE: There have been ups and downs in the number of documented gangs. We started to see crime go up a bit. Last year we saw of violent crimes going up. We know that gangs are responsible for a disproportionate amount of that crime. They want to make sure that the message is out there. There is been a lot of change at this date state level and inmates are getting more assist sophisticated and working together to maximize profits and we want to get the word out about the need for a comprehensive set of strategies. ALISON ST. JOHN: How many give us some estimates about your report about how many gangs are in the county. CYNTHIA BURKE: We have slightly less than last year and there is variation up and down. We want to get that message out that will be talked to the members they are likely to lead to increase crime and there's a disproportionate amount of crime. ALISON ST. JOHN: Mike, what would you say about gang affiliations the county, is that a great concern to you? MIKE BARLETTA: That is always a concern. Anytime more than one person gets together to prey on the community. ALISON ST. JOHN: Where would you say the most concentration of gangs are in the community? MIKE BARLETTA: Their are gangs in many areas, they each have their own personality. The crimes that they command may be different, the way that they form is a little bit different, and that could occur throughout the county. ALISON ST. JOHN: What kind of illegal activities are you seeing in your research? CYNTHIA BURKE: According to law enforcement they are most concerned about drug distribution. They are trained to maximize profits and work with drug organizations across the border. They are really growing. We talked to one person who says they can sell drugs only once and I can sell a girl over and over, they are really out for the profit. ALISON ST. JOHN: You said that this may be connected to the realignment of the state prisons. Over the last few years you can say we do not have the evidence to set suggest that this is affecting our highway, but as the study suggest anything different? CYNTHIA BURKE: I would say that we know that our individuals under the state alignment, which has nothing to do with local distress discretion, there is less of a concern for big offenses. Certain defenses that they could've gone back to jail for the would of stayed off the streets for us and time. The members and the if you know what the risk and benefit is of committing a crime, that could be a weighing into decisions for criminals. ALISON ST. JOHN: What the that jumps out of the from your report is the average age of joining his thirteen at half years old, that's so young. CYNTHIA BURKE: This is consistent what we have seen nationally. This is why we wanted to come out and make sure the message got to the community and on average they were with the gang up to a year. They're great nonprofits and task forces that are trying to work on that, but we know about two thirds said that they had family and gangs and one third did not have family members in the gang. Just because you are not in the gang does not mean that you may not be open to that. ALISON ST. JOHN: From the Sheriff's perspective, are these very young gang members always threatening as the older ones? Are you concerned about thirteen-year-old gang members in the community? MIKE BARLETTA: Yes that is a tactic of gangs to use the younger gang members to commit the crimes because they know that the punishment is less for juveniles if they were caught. ALISON ST. JOHN: It's interesting that you said the family link, which how much is it there to for gangs to run in families? CYNTHIA BURKE: We saw about two thirds of them did have family involvement, but what is surprising it is not always the same day. Sometimes they can be in different neighborhoods of different gangs. About one in five said that the family actually supports their membership but many of them don't. You will see what their family doesn't there's a cultural shift and it's very important for prevention the opportunities to be available. ALISON ST. JOHN: Your report also mentions what the neighborhood thinks of gangs, in some cases the neighborhood does not have a negative outlook on the gangs. CYNTHIA BURKE: Many of them are actually neutral, about one in five. Or even supportive. ALISON ST. JOHN: The Sheriff's department is trying to change that culture, but not just enforcing the law but working with people in the community. MIKE BARLETTA: One of our most supportive programs is for gang resistance education and training. We found that who we targeted may be the wrong audience, so now we're presenting to fourth and fifth graders before they hit the gang age. ALISON ST. JOHN: We have a caller that asked about the difference between gangs and clubs like motorcycle clubs. This is an interesting question because many gangs have social activity. How much would you say that is one of the predominant reasons that people are the gang? CYNTHIA BURKE: There is one of the most common reasons and they joined because a friend instead and they like that sense of involvement. We try to counteract of that. Their drinking and doing drugs and taking out cruising together and, were trying to go back to the documentation and the committee involvement. ALISON ST. JOHN: That is not such a hard question, but what is the difference between what defines the gang as supposed to club? MIKE BARLETTA: There is a very specific legal definition. If there are three or more people committing a list of crimes the number of times, that is a law against it document that person is gang member. ALISON ST. JOHN: One of the other interesting things is that they do not use social networking as the general population, so even though the strong link to the social element, we all want to go along and many groups are not going to make people feel like they belong and it's interesting that they are not using social networking as much as some of the other groups. CYNTHIA BURKE: We did see that and law enforcement is aware of evidence that could be used to tie that works together to help in their analysis of crime and how often we all need to be careful about what is out there is once you put something out on the web that is not out there for it is out there for everyone to most of them were not online communicating. ALISON ST. JOHN: So is the Sheriff's Department using social networks to find out who belongs to gangs? MIKE BARLETTA: Absolutely. There are enough gang members describing activities and posting pictures and we use that data and information to our advantage. ALISON ST. JOHN: I've seen very long posts from gang members boasting about what they've seen it done. They do not use the real name so in some ways it may be easy for people to use social networks and anonymously. MIKE BARLETTA: We are pulmonary that is correct. We're primary primarily looking for information, single acts like that cannot make us go after the crime but we can use the information in the future. ALISON ST. JOHN: A lot of them report that they want to get out of the gang. CYNTHIA BURKE: We do hear that and across the nation that looks at people that age out and high crime age groups are 18 to 24 and then in individuals that would sure get out of the system as they get older or have family spirit many adults are got out of the gates and we talked to law enforcement that criminal involvement may not go to the same degree, when we compare data about people who have been arrested and compared to those who are not, we've had stark differences about gang involvement and carried weapons and drug use. We we're looking at the risk for recidivism and then once I get into again it's hard to get out and not just because there's necessarily negative repercussions, it's who their friends are and who their family is, they are they are so how do you break that with someone you see everyday. ALISON ST. JOHN: Do you see sometimes it repercussions for people trying to get out of gangs or more a matter of someone making a decision? CYNTHIA BURKE: Is more of a matter of people making the decision. ALISON ST. JOHN: So the idea that we have the people are in the gang because there's the risk to the health, they are threatened if they get out, that is not so much the reality? MIKE BARLETTA: It's a part of the reality that it's not something that we can deal with law enforcement. ALISON ST. JOHN: What about technology, they are not using social networks, but are they using technology more, is that something that is becoming a part of the difficulty of controlling gangs? CYNTHIA BURKE: From what I have heard we have done cross task force studies and one thing we're trying to get out is the comprehensiveness of the strategies and when the everybody is very profit oriented and they will use every skill and resource available to them whether it is getting a disposable cell phone or my understanding is once they figure out law enforcement is doing one thing they will try something new and that's why it's so hard for law enforcement to try to stay one step ahead of them one thing that we really talk about violent crime in neighborhoods they really think it's so important to support our law enforcement if the gangs and issues, and when you go to a neighborhood and they see that there is a crime that is going on there will be richer to it abuses of how we make sure that we get those resources into the committee until about afterwards and going into the profit margins to making sure that gets taken down because of the technology, another were capable group does not take the groups place. MIKE BARLETTA: Anytime we do a major stakeout we have to do more resources is a committee to make sure that we do not see the uptake in violent crime that fills the void. ALISON ST. JOHN: As inside Mexico now there is quite a large percent percentage of people who report being gang members who carry guns and 56% said it was easy to get a gun, is that typical? Guns are getting easier to get? CYNTHIA BURKE: We're hearing a lot about that and it seems like it's street culture of passing them on, has not gone up or down but anyone who has wanted to get a gun they have not had difficulty doing so. ALISON ST. JOHN: This is presumably one of the things that you're dealing with, people who are on to get a sense that you have these programs that are very successful, how much do you think firearms of the street numbers are changing? MIKE BARLETTA: There are so many guns available. With the community is willing to turn in guns voluntarily, that speaks the number of guns that are available to criminals. ALISON ST. JOHN: Finally, how many of us do think this research will help law enforcement design strategies to reduce the number of people involved in illegal activities at gangs? CYNTHIA BURKE: The message we want to get out again is that we're seeing increases in crime and not everybody has said he will opportunity to be committing those crimes and gang members are more practice report that we and we're really emphasizing how takes the community to work together to be aware of the invention opportunities in make opportunities for people trying to choose that course and it's difficult to get out and involvement will change an increase in again reinforces for law enforcement and ensuring that they have the ability to adjust crimes and do the deeper dive and understand that there networks are going together and they need the three forces. ALISON ST. JOHN: I would like to thank you very much for joining us. That is Cynthia Burke with SANDAG. And Mike Barletta from San Diego County Sheriff's Department, thank you for coming in.

San Diego County is home to 158 street gangs with about 7,500 members, according to a report released Thursday by the San Diego Association of Governments.

The study, based on 2012 data, blamed gangs for about 25 percent of the crimes in the region. Many of the law enforcement officers interviewed said they believed gangs were now a bigger problem than five years ago.

"Gangs are diversifying into other areas and becoming more involved in prostitution, alien smuggling and human trafficking," said Cynthia Burke, SANDAG director of criminal justice research. "They are collaborating with each other to build more sophisticated criminal enterprises, and they are using new and advanced technology to facilitate criminal activity to a greater degree than ever before."


According the SANDAG, a regional planning agency, the study found that the average gang member joined at 13.5 years of age. The leading reason for joining a gang was because of an existing association with friends who are involved in one.

Gang involvement tends to run in families. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said they had family members in gangs.

Other key findings included:

-- gang members in the Midwest have been migrating to the southwestern

U.S. to take advantage of the drug trade;


-- the presence of gangs made up of Somali immigrants are increasing;

-- more than 50 percent of adult gang members and 31 percent of juvenile gang members have carried a firearm;

-- about half of the gang members questioned said their criminal activity included robberies and graffiti, while 95 percent said they "hang out" with other members and 91 percent they get drunk and/or high with them; and

-- 37 percent said gang membership provides a sense of belonging.

A total of 136 people -- 93 adults and 43 juveniles -- answered questions about their gang involvement, according to SANDAG.

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