South SF police unit tackles growing gang problems

Gang members getting stopped by cops in South San Francisco

November 12, 2011 1:45:40 AM PST
The growing gang problem in the Bay Area is hitting some of the smallest communities the hardest. One of those is South San Francisco and now the city is fighting back with a special gang unit.

On a Friday night ABC7 rode along with police officers on the east side of South San Francisco. This is gang turf. The officers had just arrived on a routine patrol when two shots rang out.

"Could we have units start filtering out here, we have a couple of shots being fired," said one officer.

Sgt. Danny Gill heads the newly-formed Neighborhood Police Response Team which is four officers assigned fulltime to fight an exploding gang problem in this peninsula city. The gunshots tell you just how bold gangs have become.

"It could have been just the gangsters letting us know that they know we're here or a warning, 'this is our turf, not yours,'" said Gill.

The shots were fired near a small park where a December gang shooting left three people dead and three others wounded.

"This area right here is predominantly the territory of the Cypress Park Locos. They're Nortenos. They claim the color red," said Gill.

Their arch enemies, the Surenos, wear blue. But as the violence continues, the colors are beginning to blur.

"What we've been seeing in the last couple of years is a lot of red on red rivalry, where it's not usual," said Gill.

Officers encounter half a dozen suspected gang members a couple of streets down. One man had been arrested before for carrying weapons. He is now on probation with gang enhancements.

"What that means is they can't wear any gang clothing. They can't hang out with gang members," said Officer Josh Cabillo.

As night falls, they make more stops on suspected gang members. Two suspected Nortenos were arrested after police stopped and searched their car. They found drugs, a baseball bat between the front seats of the car, and a switchblade ? that wasn't legal and one of the men had to go to jail.

For many of those stopped, their attire is a dead giveaway. Gang members will wear red shoes, red caps, and some are more creative and they'll wear red underwear. One man they stopped had tiny red stitching on his shirt. Warnings about wearing colors has almost become a mantra for these cops.

"When the homies come out here looking for trouble, they're not going to ask questions. They just start blasting. You know how it is, it's different now man," said a cop to a gang member.

Through routine patrols, the officers want gangbangers to know they're always around.

Jose Valencia has been with the Surenos since he was 14. He's now enrolled in the Jericho Project, a gang intervention program. Valencia says gangbangers are becoming younger and younger.

"They want to be carrying guns, they want to have tattoos, they want to hang out with the bigger crew, be popular. So, it's just growing drastically. I can't believe it. I see little kids about 12 years old carrying guns," said Valencia.

To counter that, Gill's team attends community meetings, parents nights and after school programs. Cops handed out stickers to kids in the neighborhood.

"We'll assist them with homework, mathematics, reading and we will also participate in game play such as air hockey or fuzzball or whatever," said Gill.

Since the Neighborhood Response Team was formed in February, they've made 200 arrests and confiscated some 15 guns.

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