Detective Thad Alexander of the Columbus Division of Police provided a crash-course in identifying gangs and gang activity at a meeting hosted by the Great Western Block Watch on Feb. 7.
Gangs present a growing problem in Columbus and its surrounding suburban and urban neighborhoods.
“The city is growing. Unfortunately, the gangs have not stopped growing,” said Alexander.
According to him, gangs are a major contributor to the area’s increase in violent crimes. Members of gangs participate in offenses ranging from drug trafficking and witness intimidation to aggravated assault and murder.
In an attempt to counter the rise in gang activity, Ohio initiated a gang law in 1999, allowing gang affiliates to endure punishment by law.
Alexander explained, “We don’t target any social group or any ethnic group. We target criminals who are involved in criminal activity.”
These criminals come with warning labels that community members must recognize. It is important to be visual, because gang members go everywhere you go, added Alexander.
Each gang sports a name, a shared form of identification, such as clothing, hand signs, alphabets and graffiti, and a particular “turf” or territory. Many gangs are named for the area from which they yield. The “Hilltop Soldiers” are an example of an area gang on the Westside that still present problems for the police department.
The Hilltop Soldiers identify themselves as Bloods, as most gangs affiliate with a larger nation, or coalition.
There are four major nations in the United States: Bloods and Crips, formed out of Los Angeles, and Folk Nation and People Nation, formed out of Chicago.
Each identifies with a specific color. Bloods typically wear red while Crips wear blue. Folks and Peoples identify with several colors depending on the gang.
The “Latin Kings,” a prevalent Latino gang in Columbus, wear yellow, while the “Vice Lords” wear green. Both identify with the People Nation.
Gangs that do not claim allegiance to one of the four major nations are known as hybrid gangs. These gangs are mainly local drug gangs. The “Brittany Hills” gang is an example of a local hybrid gang.
The gang’s color is also used to spray paint graffiti, which is a main form of communication. Graffiti allows gangs to spread information about meetings, drug deals, and turf locations. It also taunts other gangs, instigating violence.
Community members are encouraged to report sightings of gang graffiti so that members of the police force can read it and then renew the property on which it is located.
Further gang activity prevention falls on parents. “Talk to your kids and feel them out,” said Alexander. Ask your children what they know about local gangs and listen to their concerns.
Many young people join gangs to gain a sense of identity and power or they feel pressure from peers.
Gangs have also become a part of mainstream pop culture. References are present in video games, magazines, and sports paraphernalia, and almost every gang has a Web site.
Well-known rap artist and record producer, Snoop Dogg was a member of a local Crips gang in Long Beach, California.
“We try to counter this,” said Alexander. “It’s hard to tell a kid not to be like Snoop Doggy Dogg. These guys have gone mainstream. It’s hard to tell kids to turn them away.”
As a final word of advice, Alexander reminds community members to “use your mind and use your common sense.”
In order to report suspected gang activity, call the gang hotline by dialing 645-GANG, or contact community liaison officer Ken Ramos via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact detective Alexander by dialing 645-1445 or via e-mail at email@example.com.