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Investigator: Gangs are a problem everywhere, including Volusia County
By Joe Crews
posted Nov 6, 2013 - 10:04:18am
Street gangs are a nationwide problem, and Volusia County is not immune, according to Daniel Shivers, a Volusia County Sheriff’s Office investigator and gang expert.
“SUR 13 is one of the most dangerous gangs in America, and it’s now here in Volusia County,” Shivers said during a presentation at the Volusia County of Governments Oct. 28.
But Shivers said other gangs are present in every city or community of Volusia County. SUR 13 is a gang with primarily Mexican roots and is most active locally in Northwest Volusia. Other gangs may be linked by activity, such as drug-dealing, rather than by nationality.
“Under Florida law, it is legal to be a gang member,” Shivers said. “But it is illegal to recruit, lead or commit crimes for a gang.”
Since 2010, the Sheriff’s Office has documented 269 street-gang members in Volusia County. In addition, over the same period, another 172 individuals were documented as associates of street gangs, and 95 gangs have been documented as active countywide.
Most of the local gangs are nontraditional, meaning they’re not associated with nationally known groups such as the Bloods or Crips, Shivers said. And, he said, the Sheriff’s Office believes local gang activity has begun declining in recent years.
Documented gang cases peaked at 294 in 2011, mostly because of a push that year by Sheriff Ben Johnson to be more proactive in pursuing gangs, Shivers said. The tally declined to 222 cases in 2012; figures for the current year were not available.
Street gangs can be identified by self-proclamation, hand signs, tattoos, or the clothing they wear (i.e., gang colors), Shivers said. They’re also frequent users of social media.
“Gang members love to show off that they’re gang members,” he said.
Recruitment of new members can begin as early as middle school, he said, but high schools are also fertile recruiting grounds.
“Children crave attention,” Shivers said. “If it is not given to them by parents, they may be ‘drawn’ to gangs who can provide the attention they desire.”
Getting into a gang can be accomplished by committing a crime that benefits the gang, but a more common way of being initiated is the “beat in” or “jump in,” during which the recruit is pummeled by gang members for 15 to 30 seconds, depending on the gang’s rules.
Another way in is the beating of innocent persons, such as the homeless, Shivers said.
About 15 percent of gang members are female; there are also all-female gangs. Females get into gangs by the same methods males do, with one additional (albeit less common) method: getting “sexed in.”
About 1 percent of the nation’s motorcycle clubs are also gangs, Shivers said. Motorcycle gangs are very similar to street gangs, yet very different. For one thing, members of motorcycle gangs were all adults before joining, and the members usually stay in their gangs for life.
Yet motorcycle gangs, like street gangs, also commit crimes such as narcotics sales, robbery, murder and the like. They, too, have colors, patches, hand signs, tattoos and symbols that are unique to their clubs, Shivers said.
Pierson Mayor James Sowell said gang activity does exist in his town, but it seems to be on the decline.
“We haven’t had anything real bad happen in several months or a year,” Sowell said. “I think the Sheriff’s Department has a lot to do with that.”
DeLand police spokesman Sgt. Chris Estes said the department’s investigators told him gang activity is not a major problem in the city.
“We don’t have any embedded groups in the city and no specific gang problem,” Estes said. “We are not naive and thinking there are no gang members, but we just haven’t had any problems.”
Tom Laputka, Orange City’s mayor, said he doesn’t know how much gang activity may be present in that city, but he thinks it has declined in recent years.
To illustrate, Laputka said there used to be a problem with young people congregating outside a movie theater, and, one night four or five years ago, a teenage girl was stabbed in the back.
“We were told the injury was a gang initiation,” Laputka said. “We were completely taken aback by that.”
So the Orange City Police Department started talking to the parents who were dropping their kids off at the theater, the mayor said. Officers would ask for the parents’ IDs and would ask them when they were picking their children up.
“The parents didn’t like that,” he said. “We just weren’t going to let that become a hangout, and since then we haven’t had that problem.”
Shivers, the sheriff’s investigator, said while gang activity seems to be declining, deputies are staying vigilant.
“The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is always trying to promote gang awareness,” he said. “We are very well-equipped, and can handle anything they throw at us.”
Shivers said anyone wanting to report suspected gang activity can call the Sheriff’s Office or their local police department.
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