Gang task force has hands full

Expert says problem is widespread
By DENNIS TAYLOR
Herald Staff Writer

There are an estimated 3,000 affiliated gang members and associates in Salinas, about 5,000 in Monterey County, some of whom are second- or third-generation. Some parents don’t care their children are banging and a lot of others don’t know.

Those are some of the messages delivered late Thursday by Cmdr. Dino Bardoni of the Monterey County Joint Gang Task Force to a group of about 30 people attending a meeting of the Marina Democratic Club.

Though the bulk of gang activity takes place in Salinas, the problem is everywhere, Bardoni, a 25-year veteran — including more than four years with the task force — said.

“Anybody who says there aren’t any gangs on the Peninsula has his head in the sand,” he said.

Although the majority of the county’s gangbangers are Hispanic, mostly affiliated with the Norteño or Soreño gangs, there are also black, Caucasian, Asian and outlaw motorcycle gangs at work. They deal in activities that include murder, money laundering, kidnapping, torture, mayhem, felony extortion, drugs, prostitution and identity theft.

Bardoni heads an 18-person crew that watches more than 3,300 square miles — from Pajaro to Camp Roberts — and 425,000 people. The joint task force works in coordination with 20 police jurisdictions, including the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol and the Monterey County Probation Department.

“We do a lot of community meetings, and the intent here is to offer gang awareness training to the public: what our intent is, how we came about, what we do, what problems are facing Monterey County, how they can identify whether their children are involved in gangs, what we can do for them and what they can do for us,” Bardoni said.

The latter point, he said, is crucial. Bardoni said officers often run into brick walls within the community when they are attempting to investigate gang-related incidents. Gang members clam up because of an oath of loyalty. Potential witnesses often say nothing out of fear of retaliation.

“I’ve been to shootings where a person is lying in the street in a pool of blood, dead, and there are 20 people a few feet away, drinking beer. None of them will talk to us,” he said. “The biggest problem we have is getting the public to share information with us, and that’s everywhere.

“We’re as aggressive as we legally can be, but unless people point us in the right direction, it’s difficult to get the people that caused the problems.”

Norteños (gangs who identify with Northern California’s Nuestra Familia) traditionally outnumber Soreños (affiliated with Southern California’s Mexican Mafia) in Monterey County, but Bardoni said the numbers are becoming more even.

An El Salvadoran gang known as MS-13 operates in Seaside, Marina and Santa Cruz County. Most gang members identify themselves by the clothes they wear and the tattoos on their bodies, which can be tell-tale signs for concerned parents.

Tattoos tell a story, said Bardoni, who showed the audience a slide presentation depicting gang members with body ink that is common to the gang culture. Tattoos that say “Norte,” “Salas,” “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” “FMT” “XIV” or “LP” are common indicators of gang affiliation. So are tattoos of lips (depicting love for a gang), artichokes (Castroville), clown faces, Mongolian haircuts, four dots, or a star on the ring finger of the left hand (married to the gang).

“Getting out and meeting the community, so they can put a face with the uniform, is part of what we do to get past the lack of cooperation we often encounter,” Bardoni said. “We’re sharing resources — who to call, what to talk about, what information we need. We’ll take an in-your-face approach with the gang members, but we need to do the community outreach portion of the job, too, so people understand who we are, what we do and what we need from them.

“With a gang homicide, a lot of times we come away with no suspect information at all,” he said. “If a husband kills his wife, at least we know where to start looking.”

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