The city has seen a murder, a non-fatal shooting on Olive Street and several incidents of resident’s homes being shot at on Taylor and Ritchey Streets in the past few weeks, leaving Gainesville residents to wonder how much more is to come.

Although Gainesville Police Department has not linked the June 11 fatal shooting of Jesus “Chuy” Camacho on California St. to gang activities, city residents can’t help but speculate that some type of organized violence such as gang activity is involved in the rash of guns being fired at people, homes and cars in our area.

Gainesville Police Department Investigator Tim Green said the department does have a gang unit and is well aware of the problem of gang violence in the city.

He said the gangs that are showing up in Gainesville are rooted mostly in California and Chicago.

“Our problems are no different from any other town’s,” he said. He explained that gang members often flee cities such as Chicago or Bakersfield, Calif., and come to small towns.

Gang members come to places such as Gainesville for several reasons. Sometimes the they end up here because they have family members already living in the area. Other gang members are running away from police agencies in their own cities.

Green said the recent spate of driveby shootings and the Camacho murder are proof that criminals in Gainesville, whether or not they belong to gangs, are “getting better at what they do.”

Green said there are three groups of gang members known to be in our area: Satan’s Disciples, a gang that originated in Chicago, and two other gangs from Bakersfield, California, the Nortenos, or Northerners, and the Surenos, or Southerners.

The Nortenos have defined their territory as anything north of Bakersfield, Calif.; while the Surenos claim anything south of that city.

From time to time power struggles erupt inside each gang.

That could be one reason for what seems to be a surge in gang activity here.

For example, after the March 17, 2006, 700 Ranch Round Up which targeted methamphetamine traffickers in the north Texas and south central Oklahoma areas, Green said police speculate that there was a power struggle among drug dealers to replace kingpins who had been arrested.

Gangs operate in the same manner: when a leader is taken into custody, rivals vie for control of the gang. That scenario might be playing itself out here.

How many gang members are there in Gainesville? Nobody has any definitive numbers, but police believe there are at least a handful of hard-core gang members from Satan’s Disciples, the Nortenos and the Surenos.

Each of these groups are considered to be heavily armed and very violent.

Green said many of the people who become interested in and eventually join gangs are high school students. When these “wannabes” set out to prove themselves things can get dangerous.

Although gangs mainly target rivals for violence anyone could be caught in the crossfire — that’s what makes the recent violence so frightening.

Green said GPD is trying to get a handle on the problem. The department is devoting more manpower to stopping gang activities.

Another way police are dealing with the problem of gangs in our city is with a “zero tolerance” policy. That means if a known or suspected gang member commits a crime he or she will be cited and/or arrested for it.

Green said the public needs to cooperate with “zero tolerance” and understand that such tough measures are necessary to help make Gainesville a safer place.

Reporter Delania Trigg may be contacted at dtrigg@ntin.net

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