Las Vegas Police Take On 20,000 Gang Members

by Rachel Christiansen | Nevada Public Radio | KNPR
June 25, 2015

las vegas gangsIn Southern Nevada, about 20,000 people identify themselves as gang members.

That’s about six of every 1,000 Nevada residents. That puts Nevada in the top five states for the number of gang members, according to the FBI.

While many gangs originated in California, others are homegrown right here in the Las Vegas Valley. As such, gang boundaries and divisions can be very difficult for law enforcement to define.

Lt. Sasha Larkin with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s gang unit told KNPR’s State of Nevada that ‘hybrid gangs’ are a problem because they’re often made up of people from other gangs that have joined together.

“It is a little bit more difficult for us to follow and track, which is why we spend a lot of time out in the community talking to people trying to figure out how we can best keep the pulse on what’s happening,” Larkin said.

Despite the difficultly of tracking gangs, Larkin believes the department is making progress in limiting gang influence and violence.

She said the number of gang-related homicides this year is down from last year, but she admits it is still too high.

“We’re moving in the right direction. Are we anywhere close to where we need to be? No.” Larkin said.

Sgt. Branden Clarkson is also with Metro Police. He tracks graffiti and says kids often start as taggers, spraying graffiti on buildings, walls and signs, but they quickly move into robbery and drugs, forming their own street gangs.

However, Clarkson doesn’t believe arresting kids is the best answer.

“We can’t arrest our way out of a problem,” Clarkson said.

He believes outreach to kids in need is more valuable.

“We need to find people who want to escape this life,” Clarkson pointed out.

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