Hilltop Crips have been powerful criminal force for 20 years
BY STACEY MULICK (The News Tribune)
The Hilltop Crips have a long history.
Tacoma police investigators say that over the past 20 years, the gang has been “a powerful criminal force on the streets of Tacoma.” Its members have been convicted of murders, aggravated assaults, robberies and other drug and gang charges.
About 15 teens formed the gang, originally known as the 23rd Street Hilltop Crips, in the late 1980s. It’s had a foothold in Tacoma since.
The gang’s young founders were attracted to the lifestyle exhibited by the Los Angeles gangsters working Tacoma’s streets.
According to court documents filed in a recent crackdown against the gang:
“They chose gang monikers for themselves; they established gang signs that they would form with their hands; they began wearing unique clothing that identified them as members of the Crip gang and they became involved in acts of extreme violence.
“They also immersed themselves in the sale of rock cocaine in Tacoma.”
Turf wars drove members of the rival Bloods off the Hilltop and into other parts of the city, predominantly the East Side. The original Hilltop Crips recruited other youngsters, and the gang eventually had as many as 300 members.
“They became so strong that they overcame the Los Angeles gangs in the area,” charging documents state. “Soon Los Angeles gang members operated only if the HTCs allowed them to do so.”
In the early years, youngsters flaunted their gang membership.
Tacoma police detective John Ringer, who’s been investigating gangs for 20 years, still has the photo albums he carried in his patrol car in the late 1980s. The albums, called gang books, contain pictures of identified gang members.
When on patrol, Ringer said, he stopped to talk and identify gang members.
Sometimes gang members would flag him down and ask to see the book. If their photos weren’t in the albums, he said, the gang members would pose for snapshots and flash their signs.
In the late 1990s, law enforcement struck several blows to the gang when the Pierce County Violent Crimes Task Force targeted the Hilltop’s streets and the gangsters committing violence and dealing drugs.
A series of undercover operations focused on cocaine dealers and led to hundreds of arrests, including many Hilltop Crips.
The South Sound Gang Task Force, which was created in 2003, also has taken off several key players of the gang over the past six years. Investigators say the size of the gang rises and falls, but now it has more than 200 members and associates.
In recent years, gang members quit flaunting their affiliations when they were stopped by police, Ringer said. They’ve also been more evasive in flying their colors, he said
Eventually most of the original members of the gang either have been locked up or killed.
However, police investigators say the gang has been rebounding and rebuilding its ranks. They say they’re seeing second and third generations of gang members.