Graffiti doesn’t mean gangs

By Doug Keeler, Midway Driller Editor
Published Friday March 28, 2008 2:42 PM CDT

A recent outbreak of graffiti in the Taft area is mostly the work of junior high-aged youths and not related to street gang activity, according to local law enforcement officers.

Despite references in some of the graffiti to establish street gangs from the Southern California, it is not an indicator that sets from those groups are forming or are active now in Taft, police say.

But Kern County Sheriff’s deputies are concerned that the graffiti and other actions point to at least a “gang influence” on some of the community’s youth.

Some of the graffiti is just vandalism. But some of it refers to street gangs from the Los Angeles area.

Other local graffiti refers to local cliques , some of which have formed along racial lines, police and sheriff’s deputies say.

Police describe them as small groups of junior high students.

They say none are street gangs as such.

But they are a concern for police and sheriff’s deputies nonetheless.

They are believed to be involved in most of the graffiti, and at least some are beginning to imitate street gang behavior.

“There are gang influences affecting some of the youth and it seems to be increasing,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Martin Downs, commander of the Taft substation. “We’re seeing it in the graffiti and the photographs.”

Sheriff’s deputies have obtained photos of local junior high youth posing while making gang signs with their hands and wearing colors and other items associated with Southern California street gangs.

They have also talked with youth in the area and don’t like what they are hearing.

“Based on interviews with children and teenagers and talking with them about the groups and the way they behave, it’s troubling to say the least,” Downs said.

Tagging, mostly under bridges and in alleys but more recently on buildings, even some near downtown, is the most visible problem.

Police have been able to identify most of the culprits responsible for the tagging.

“Basically they’re all junior high kids. They’re all from Lincoln” Taft Police Sgt. Ed Whiting said.

Some have been cited into juvenile court. Others, while not being charged yet, have been contacted by officers.

One suspect was responsible for tagging several weeks ago in the 200 block of North Street and near A Street Park has been cited, Taft Police Sgt. Ed Whiting said.

In a more recent case, police have also identified the youth they believe is responsible for graffiti left on several buildings near downtown, including Fourth Street and North Street.

Neither is a gang member, Whiting said, and both are junior high students.

In another case, sheriff’s deputies have linked a potential suspect to the tagging of garbage dumpsters in Ford City.

Police specially addressed citizens’ concerns that the graffiti is the work of active street gang members.

It is not, they said.

Although some graffiti has referred to known gangs, Whiting emphasized that there is no organized activity in the Taft area.

Downs agreed.

“For anyone to tell you we have a huge gang problem would be false,” Downs said. “I don’t want to be an alarmist. This isn’t Bakersfield. We’re not overrun with gangs. But to say we’re insulated from this would be false.”

Whiting said organized gangs would mark off their own territory and control criminal activity such as drug dealing, prostitution, carjacking and auto thefts to make money for the gang.

That type of crime, with the exception of drug dealing, is very rare in Taft, and Whiting said it is committed by individuals and not by gang members to further a gang or finance its activities.

Both police and Sheriff’s deputies keep close watch on the handful of identified street gang and prison gang members living in Taft,

There are a few people known to be associated with gangs in the past who have moved to Taft, but none are active as street gang members.

Whiting said some even moved here to get to a safe place, to get away from gang activity.

But the tagging might be the handwriting on the wall that things could change, Downs said, and said police and sheriff’sdeputies have to be proactive.

“We have to treat these type of crimes like it is a gang problem and treat thse kids like potential gang members.”

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