Gang presence obvious in Lincon

December 2, 2010 at 3:51 pm

The presence of Lincoln gangs lately can be seen by graffiti on fences and walls throughout Lincoln.

“There is not much gang violence in Lincoln but there are gang members here,” Lincoln interim Police Chief Joel Neves said. “Lincoln is fortunate that we don’t see a lot of impacts from the gang activity other than graffiti. When I came here, I was surprised to see that much tagging and gang graffiti. The obvious indication is that those folks are here and we need to be ever so cognizant of that.”

The graffiti ranges from numbers associated with gangs to more serious messages from one gang to another.

One of those messages, located on a fence near the corner of Eighth and E Streets, reads 187SUT.

Lincoln Police Lt. David Ibarra said 187 is the California penal code for murder and SUT stands for Surenos Unidos Treces. This graffiti can be seen as a challenge or even a death threat from the Nortenos to the Surenos, Ibarra said.

Surenos and Nortenos are the two main Hispanic gangs in Lincoln, according to Ibarra.

Norteno is Spanish for northerner and Sureno is Spanish for southerner.

The News Messenger asked Neves if there is a gang problem in Lincoln.

“I wouldn’t classify it as a problem,” Neves said. “One of the reasons we don’t see a lot of gang activity, like drive-by shootings or fights, is the community is small and most officers know those involved in gangs so they keep an eye out when they are in public.”

The News Messenger reported in June 2009 that Lincoln had 40 validated Sureno gang members and six Norteno gang members.

Neither Neves nor Ibarra would give a specific number for the number of validated gang members currently in Lincoln. Neves said, “We probably have between 50 and 60.”

The police department had a crime suppression unit in 2006, which monitored gang activity and members, according to Neves. That unit was dissolved in 2009 due to budget cuts, Neves said.

Ibarra said it would be a problem if there were weekly gang-related stabbings and homicides.

There were 109 gang-related incidents in 2009, which included graffiti and assaults, according to Ibarra, and 58 gang-related incidents this year to date.

Those incidents range from graffiti to assaults, Neves said, and the majority of those incidents are graffiti, with one to three cases of graffiti a week.

Neves said the assaults are minor “and vary from someone punching another person to throwing a rock or stick at them.”

“Right now it (gang activity) fluctuates all of the time. It depends on the different trends and how we operate as far as implementing prevention, intervention and suppression efforts,” Ibarra said.

Ibarra said the police department has “seen anything from drug trafficking and serious assaults to stabbings and shootings.”

The last gang-related shooting was in 2007, a year which also saw two gang-related stabbings, according to Ibarra.

Ibarra said Lincoln has seen an increase in Hispanic gangs since 2004, “particularly with the Surenos and Nortenos.”

“I’ve been a police officer in Lincoln since 1989, the first decade we would see gangs come into Lincoln, and we would use suppression efforts and they would leave Lincoln,” Ibarra said. “In 2004, a different breed of gang members came into Lincoln, more hard-core. Their whole life revolves around street gangs.”

Gang members range in age from 13 to their late 20s, according to Ibarra.

The News Messenger asked Ibarra if there are gangs at Lincoln’s middle schools or high school.

“As far as gang presence and gang activity, there is nothing reported to me from the youth services officer and that tells me we don’t have any gang activities at the school,” Ibarra said.

Lincoln High School principal Dave Butler said that gang activity is not tolerated.

Butler said that “it’s been several years” since there has been any gang activity at the school.

But The News Messenger reported in June 2009 that there was a gang-related fight at the school in May 2009.

Lincoln High School parent Dana Labrado said that Lincoln High School is “safer” this year.

“I think it’s a little better at school because there’s an officer there,” Labrado said. “My sons are much more at ease, especially at school.”

Labrado has two sons at Lincoln High School, one of whom had a knife pulled on him in May 2008 at Lincoln High School, according to previous News Messenger reports.

Last June, Labrado told The News Messenger that Lincoln High School “is not safe.” She “was glad” to see an officer at the campus.

Prior to the officer being on campus, Labrado said, she heard of fights on campus and students bringing adult family members on campus for protection.

The News Messenger asked parents outside of Glen Edwards Middle School Monday if they were aware of gang activity in Lincoln.

Stephanie Woodard said her children have not been affected by gangs.

“It’s a little scary but you just have to be involved in your children’s lives,” Woodard said.

Daniel Evitt said he hadn’t heard about gang activity but has seen graffiti “around town.”

“I think it sucks. I grew up with that stuff,” Evitt said. He is “less likely” to let his children walk home from school now.

The type of gang activity police now observes is graffiti, which Ibarra said is “what we see most of the time,” as well as assaults.

“We look at graffiti and we read it to see the messages. We have to find out if it’s new or old graffiti, we have to find out what the message is and who it’s intended for,” Ibarra said.

Some of the messages included in the graffiti are monikers, or nicknames, as well as the number 14 for Norteno and 13 for Surenos and various abbreviations for both gangs.

Ibarra said one responsibility of Lincoln Police officers “is keeping an eye out for gang activity.”

“The ongoing vigilance happens on a daily basis to see what type of gang activity there is in Lincoln,” Ibarra said. “We have to keep an eye out because no community is immune to gang and criminal activity.”

One way officers keep an eye out when on patrol is contacting potential gang members, Ibarra said, “to figure out who they are, what type of activity they do and who they are affiliated with.”

Ibarra said intervention includes making contact with youth who are already in a gang and may or may not be on probation, “to work with the kid and change their mindset to stay out of the gang.”

Neves couldn’t say how often the police department makes contact with youth already involved in gangs because it’s “not something we track.”

“If the kids can’t be reached by prevention and intervention, we’ll do our traditional job of criminal investigation, gathering intelligence and making an arrest to get their attention,” Ibarra said, describing suppression efforts.

Layoffs due to budget restrictions in the city’s General Fund could impact these efforts, according to Ibarra.

“My concern and fear is that as we lose more people, we’ll see a gradual increase in crime and that’s when criminals pay attention to those things and they get comfortable when they don’t see a police presence,” Ibarra said.

Neves expressed similar concerns.

“As our department gets smaller, we are less able to watch, monitor and track gang members,” Neves said. “The fear is if we are less watchful, they get a better foothold and we see increased gang activity.”

Neves said residents can help keep the community safe by reporting any tagging or graffiti around town so police can analyze it. Residents can call the Lincoln Police Department at 645-4040 to report any tagging, graffiti or suspicious behavior.

Youth Center activities help keep youth away from gang involvement

Prevention activities include getting at-risk youth involved with activities such as the Police Activities League and Youth Center, according to Ibarra.

“We show kids other things they can do to be connected to their families, school and community,” Ibarra said.

Karen Hernandez, the Youth Center’s director and ReDirect president, said they get two to five referrals a month from schools for at-risk children.

“When we get the referral, the first thing we do is contact the person referring the youth to get detailed information about the behavior,” Hernandez said. “We call the parents to have a meeting with the parents and youth to find out what’s going on as a whole.”

She said Youth Center staff finds scholarship money so the youth can be involved in sports, “or we find ways to get them into programs for music, sports and art.”

“By having them attend the Youth Center, we have them socialize amongst their peers, and start building their confidence and self esteem,” Hernandez said.

As far as gangs in Lincoln goes, Hernandez says what she sees are “kids trying to be territorial and some wear red or blue.”

“It’s not as serious of a problem as in the big cities,” Hernandez said. “The police do a great job of policing, that’s 80 percent, and we’re trying to do what we can.”

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