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News >  Idaho

Gangs not just a city problem

Josh Wright Staff Writer

BOISE – A juvenile detention center director issued a strong warning to Idaho lawmakers Thursday, saying the state’s residents cannot rest on the belief that gang activity only takes place in metropolitan areas.

In a briefing to the House Judiciary Committee, Brian Walker proposed taking a progressive, community-based approach to stop gangs from solidifying their position in Idaho.

From the South Side 13s to the Bloods and the 311 Boyz, most of the gangs that have infiltrated major U.S. cities are in Idaho, too, said Walker, director of the 3-B Juvenile Detention Center in Idaho Falls.

He outlined juvenile gang activity in Idaho with a detailed slide show of images, Web sites and facts during an hour-long presentation. Using a plethora of pictures of tattoos and graffiti with complex codes and messages, Walker showed the growing complexity of trying to root out gangs.

“It isn’t just bookkeeping anymore,” said Walker of being a detention officer. “It’s analyzing tattoos, deciphering Old English alphabets, looking for any signs of gang activity.”

The 12 detention centers in Idaho see an average of 300 juveniles a day, Walker said. At least one-third of those have ties to gangs.

“Our culture glorifies gangs,” Walker noted. “What does our military do? They stress having leaders, wearing the same clothes. Hollywood produces movies that glorify gang life. Boy Scouts and sports teams use the same things to entice kids as gangs do – being part of a group and having an identity.

“It’s easy to understand why gang activity is spreading.”

Gang members are becoming younger and more sophisticated as well, he said. Gang leaders start recruiting members as young as 8, even in Idaho. By age 12, they are selling drugs or committing other crimes.

The younger members, often called associates, sometimes are more likely to commit serious crimes so they can improve their status in the gangs or gain approval, he said.

But Walker said gang-related crime is decreasing in big cities, where task forces are disrupting large sets of gangs at one time. Those gang members, though, are moving to rural communities, like those in Idaho, Walker said.

What once were prominent gangs in Los Angeles and Chicago are now in Caldwell, Nampa and every corner of the state, he said.

Walker stressed a proactive community approach to change the landscape in Idaho. He recommended creating committees in churches and other local organizations to discuss potential problem spots. And he said hiring resource officers in schools also would help the situation.

“It’s not just the police’s problem,” he said. “People in communities are the ones that stop gangs from happening.”

Rep. Peter Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, questioned Walker on how people can know who to approach in their communities without asking detention centers for a list of names.

“Everyone knows who they are,” Walker said. “It’s no secret.”

But identifying potential gang members isn’t always easy. Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said everyday people often express their cultural background in what some might consider gang paraphernalia.

“Yes, we have to be cognizant of that,” Walker said. “But we shouldn’t allow gang-related clothes in our schools. It creates a dangerous environment.”

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