Gang unit returns to address crime

Infographic by Liz Coffee and Monica Fitch.
Infographic by Liz Coffee and Monica Fitch.

Detective Ben Love said the most impactful crime of his career was when an innocent bystander was shot by a member of the Bloods gang in Chico.

The shooter got into an argument with a Norteno gang member, the Chico Police gang unit detective said. The fight escalated and shots were fired by the member of the Bloods gang. He missed the Norteno and instead shot and critically injured a passerby.

“In this case, an innocent bystander was shot because of gang violence,” Love said.

The shooting occurred at Second and Broadway streets on a Friday night, a time when many people are downtown, he said.

Gang violence happens all over Chico, said Sgt. Greg Keeney, supervisor of the Chico Police gang unit.

“These guys do not care about random acts of violence, and they certainly don’t care about some innocent person getting stuck in the crossfire,” he said.

Chico currently has about 1,150 documented gang members, Keeney said.

High concentrations of gang members exist in the Chapmantown neighborhood, the north end of Chico, the Lassen Avenue area, west of the Esplanade and north of First Avenue, he said.

In some cities, a gang will own a certain amount of real estate, Keeney said.

In Chico, gangs do frequent certain areas but do not own property.

Some gangs will purposefully go downtown on the weekends and start fights with people so they can assault them, he said.

“A big aspect of the gang life is not only to have people respect you, but fear you,” Keeney said.

The violence is not just confined to the downtown area. In 2012, a Norteno gang member was stabbed in front of the Chico Mall on East 20th Street in the middle of the day, he said.

“There’s no rhyme or reason of where it’s going to happen,” Keeney said.

In February, 13 members of the Crips gang were arrested for assaults and robberies downtown, he said.

The Crips would walk around downtown and in the south campus area looking for people by themselves. They would attack them, beat them until they were unconscious and rob them, Keeney said.

The gang would also find packed house parties downtown in order to burglarize them unnoticed in the crowd. They had been doing this for years before the police were able to catch them, he said.

The number of documented gang members in Chico would be much higher if it was easier to identify them, Keeney said. Lawfully identifying and documenting a gang member is difficult because of the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, a California penal code that defines what a street gang is.

Established in 1988, the goal of the law was to prevent law enforcement from being able to arbitrarily accuse someone of being a gang member, he said.

To be prosecuted as a gang member, the individual must meet specific criteria like having gang tattoos or excessively wearing gang colors.

They can also be identified if the individual was reported to the police by a reliable source, like a probation officer.

“We want every bit of information that we have on our gang members to be able to hold up in court,” Keeney said.

The Chico Police gang unit was reinstated in June after being disbanded for almost a year.

During that time, gangs were given free reign because no one was monitoring them, he said.

The department has been playing catchup since then, trying to identify, document and figure out what Chico gang members are up to, Keeney said.

The public ignores Chico’s gang problem because they refuse to admit there is one, he said.

“If you ignore the signs — if you ignore what’s going on — then maybe you can hope that we have a good town and we don’t need to worry about it,” Keeney said. “The fact is that the more you ignore it, the bigger chance it has to grow.”

The public should be more aware of how sophisticated the gangs in Chico are, he said.

“Their goal is to recruit as many gang members as possible,” Keeney said. “By doing that, they are creating soldiers to further their criminal enterprise. They’re trying to recruit this community’s sons and daughters to be in their gangs, and they are very good at recruiting.”

Madison Holmes can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.