Police say gangs uncommon in Southwest, but watchfulness still important

Neighborhood residents from the 5th Precinct attended a Gang Busters meeting put on by the Minneapolis Police Department's SAFE Unit, Stevens Square Community Organization and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority's Project Lookout at the end of February, intended to educate residents about gangs in the community and how they work.

Officer Chris Gaiters, a member of the MPD's Violent Crime Analysis Project in the Gang Unit, said there are numerous gangs active in the 5th Precinct, which includes most of Southwest Minneapolis. A gang is defined as a group of three or more people involved in criminal activity.

Despite the active gangs in the Southwest area, the majority of city gang activity occurs outside of Southwest: north of the area and east of I-35W, Gaiters said.

Fifth Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist Robin North said what little gang activity is in Southwest in recent months is concentrated around Washburn and Southwest high schools, with some Latino gang activity spilling into the area in the Stevens Square and Windom neighborhoods.

Gaiters and North said the two prevalent Southwest gangs are the "2-1 Clique" gang, described by Gaiters as a group of white adolescents associated with Southwest High School, and the "SSV" gang associated with Washburn High School. North said current and former 2-1 Clique gang members have been active, and there has been graffiti in the area around both schools.

Recognizing gang presence

While gangs used to recruit in parks, Gaiters said they are now recruiting in schools for new members to help sell narcotics. He said gang-connected individuals tend to hang out in the school's lunchroom or common areas, but not attend class. Gaiters said they often have an attentive group surrounding them, almost like a business strategy meeting.

Gaiters said Minneapolis has become a lucrative place for gang activity, and members are turning to schools for recruits. He said the prices for drugs in Minneapolis are so high gangs are coming for the money. For example, he said, a rock of crack costing $5-10 elsewhere in the Midwest sells for $20 in Minneapolis.

He said the majority of gang members are in their teens and early 20s, and on average will die at 24. Gaiters said that 80 percent of male gang members have been arrested at least once by age 18. When police encounter actual and suspected gang members, Gaiters said, their profile and affiliation information is included into a "Pointer file," a police gang-member database.

Graffiti

North cautions that what looks like gang graffiti can sometimes be deceiving. She said not everyone is aware what gang graffiti looks like, and most of the time, graffiti is not from gangs.

According to the MPD's graffiti literature, "tagging" is the most prevalent form of graffiti and is not gang-related. The tagger wants to gain recognition and status from peers by creating distinct "tags" in as many places as possible, or by painting murals.

Gang graffiti is less common than tagging. It's designed to mark gang territory, warn rivals, recruit members, intimidate neighborhood residents and as a form of communication. It includes letters or symbols of the gangs, only known by gang members and law enforcement.

Minneapolis Graffiti Coordinator Sgt. Rick Duncan said it's important for residents to be aware of the different types of graffiti and what steps to take when they see it.

Duncan said residents should call the city's graffiti hotline when they spot graffiti, so police can photograph the markings of the damage and create a report. He said the city no longer removes graffiti from private property, so it's up to the resident or property owner to remove the graffiti.

For gang- and graffiti-related resources and more information, contact your

neighborhood SAFE team, the Minneapolis Gang Unit Taskforce, 673-2810, and the Minneapolis Graffiti Hotline, 673-2090, or check out www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/graffiti/.