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Gang Concerns Grow - “Colors” Of Oakdale

POSTED May 31, 2011 11:17 p.m.
The battle between red and blue is escalating as recruitment is on to increase numbers for their causes. The red and blue differentiation, however, is not red states and blue states that are portrayed in election years, but the war between the Norteño and Sureño street gangs, a sight that is becoming more noticeable in the City of Oakdale.
On a recent debriefing of an arrested subject belonging to the Norteño street gang, Oakdale Police Detective Brian Shimmel was told by the gang member that there were over 200 members affiliated with his gang living in the city as well as over 90 members of the Sureño street gang; figures that were much higher than what had been documented by the department.
Shimmel, who has been with the department for over nine years, serves as the department’s gang coordinator to follow gang activity and trends. He stated he’s seen a rise in gang membership that has also led to a great increase in gang related crimes over the last few years.

Gang graffiti becoming
a nuisance
The Norteños, or Northerners, form the oldest and largest Latino street gangs in the State of California. Norteños identify with the color red and by “N,” the 14th letter of the alphabet, which they often mark with graffiti in Roman numerals as “XIV.”
On the street, the southerners, or Sureños, identify with the color blue and the letter “M,” the 13th letter of the alphabet and use Roman numeral “XIII.”
The painted ‘XIV’ or ‘X4’ and the ‘X3’ or ‘Sur’ tags are becoming more and more visible in the city, including across from schools and at the city borders as notice of claimed territory.
Police department figures show over 200 gang related report numbers taken by police personnel in the last 18 months. In addition to the reports, the department has also responded to incidents of suspicious vehicles and persons gathering that could have been associated with gang activity.
“When I came here in 2007, I saw very little graffiti,” said Police Chief Marty West. “Now there’s a huge increase to where I’m called or notified about something every day.”
Brea DeRespini heads the city’s volunteer gang abatement efforts known as Team-up Against Graffiti, or “TAG,” a group of 12 citizens that has painted over 1400 graffiti tags in the city over the last two years.
“We’ve had a big influx this year,” said DeRespini. “I’ve noticed it’s mostly gang tags or gang member monikers.”
Oakdale resident Frank Clark angrily defined the gang graffiti as a “neon sign advertisement” for the gangs.
“This is not a sign for Oakdale,” said Clark. “We need to get on top of these things.”
“The gang graffiti has several meanings,” said Shimmel. “It claims territory and also sends messages back and forth. Simple graffiti can escalate to violence.”
Shimmel explained that the graffiti is used to mark claimed and disputed territories as gangs further their trends of drug sales, providing and possessing weapons and even prostitution in the city.

Gang activity
not just graffiti
The Sureños are recent arrivals to Oakdale, according to Shimmel.
“This city has usually been a prominent Norteño area and now Sureños have been coming in trying to claim ‘turf,’” said Shimmel. “It’s created a lot of problems.”
Shimmel mentioned a stabbing in March where a 42-year-old Hispanic citizen was walking on F Street at night when a younger group approached asking him, “Where you from?” – a term used by gang members to inquire affiliation.
“This was just an unfortunate guy wearing a red shirt walking down the street and (he) ends up getting stabbed,” said Shimmel about the victim.
Shimmel also stated there have been shootings and gunshots reported in gang-associated areas. Shimmel said he investigated a late-night shooting in the area of Stanislaus Continuation School last year that was believed to be gang related.
On May 28, Oakdale Police arrested two gang members for an aggravated assault and kidnapping of a15-year-old victim of a May 25 attack.
The FBI’s Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force is a unit whose primary mission is to reduce gang violence in all of Stanislaus County. The joint task force is comprised of representatives from federal and local law enforcement agencies within the county who have access to the latest gang intelligence and are able to assist agencies in the county with the investigation of gang related crimes.
Task Force Agent Froilan Mariscal stated he’s had high-profile cases he’s worked that have crossed into the Oakdale city limits including an attempted murder investigation where the primary suspect went to Oakdale to “hide out” with an affiliated gang member.
“Oakdale used to be an island out there,” said Mariscal. “However we’ve had some gang leaders influential over all in the Norteño organization living in Oakdale.”
Mariscal said that on the whole gang membership in the county was growing and he has seen an increase in documented cases involving gang members from Oakdale.

Gangs expanding;
police manpower
decreases
“When we had 28 officers with two SROs (school resource officers) activity was a lot less,” said Shimmel. “We were able to stay on top of things and our (gang-related) numbers were down.”
Currently the department stands at 20 officers and has lost both SROs that were valuable in gathering gang information in the schools and interacting with teens, the most vulnerable age group.
In addition to budgeted staffing cuts, department training coffers have been virtually eliminated. The Oakdale Police Department had been sending at least two persons annually to state gang conferences and has had to eliminate the expense, thus losing much-needed information to stay on top of identification, prevention and recent trends in activity.
“We can’t go in this direction and expect to curb gang activity,” said Chief West.
Other agencies’ gang enforcement activities have also been affected by cuts. The sheriff’s gang unit was disbanded and the Modesto Police Department has had to cut a once 12-person team to five.

What the future holds
There is no question that there is an increased gang presence in the city, police said. Norteños in the state historically have been adversaries and had altercations with the Sureños, which would explain the increased gang recruitment as they move toward Oakdale.
Some activists claim that police enforcement does nothing to address the cause of gang membership – economic hardship, isolation and inadequate social services afflicting many in the Latino community. Others say enforcement is the key to out-of-control graffiti and gang violence.
Despite the increase in street gang membership and related criminal activity, there have been continued budget cuts to public safety budgets trimming police manpower desperately needed to target these problems.
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