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Gangsters recruiting in smaller towns

Published May 31, 2006 1:15 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

CALDWELL, Idaho - Police departments in southwestern Idaho have started programs to stop the spread of gangs in smaller communities, which officials say is an increasing problem as the region grows.

''There are very few [cities] that don't have a gang problem,'' Nampa Police Chief Curtis Homer told the Idaho Press-Tribune. ''It's now a fluid community between Nampa, Caldwell, Boise, Garden City, Fruitland. You get some members of gangs actually getting more people to join them by going to smaller communities and try to recruit them from there.''

In Homedale, a town of about 2,500 residents located 18 miles southwest of Caldwell, police have formed Trojans Against Graffiti. Named after the town's high school mascot, the student-based group meets to paint over gang graffiti.

Students and teachers painted over graffiti in areas in town on May 5, and since then there has been only one incident of graffiti, called tagging.

''In school, we saw an increase in gang writing on notebooks, gang-type clothes,'' said Michelle Babcock of the Homedale Police. ''We're seeing an increase in that minor stuff. We would like to be proactive so that in the future we are not reactive to the gang problem.''

In Fruitland, a gang-related attack and shooting last month resulted in the death of an Ontario, Ore., man.

''We've noticed an increase in gang-related activity within the last year,'' said Rick Skelly, Fruitland's chief of police. ''This was kind of a wake-up call in our department. It's not been near as prevalent as in the Nampa and Caldwell area, but our citizens are more aware of it.''

Skelly said he has been attending monthly meetings with the Ontario Police Department to pool information about gangs in the area.

Caldwell Police Chief Bob Sobba said the city's street crimes unit maintains a constant presence and investigates gang-related crime, drugs, repeat offenders, and other complaints.

''Street crime officers are more proactive,'' Sobba said. ''They go out and talk to people, put pressure on them. If people are complaining about drug houses, they work on that, they put pressure on offenders.''

In Nampa, seven officers are assigned to investigate gang crimes, and another officer deals with gangs and violent crimes.

Homer said Nampa police have documented about 400 active gang members in the city. To prevent that number from growing, Nampa police gang officers go to schools to work with children and parents. Homer also said he intends to begin a new gang awareness academy for parents and citizens with both morning and evening sessions.

''We can keep this great community the way it is by joining together,'' Homer said.