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How Serious is Livermore's Gang Problem?

Police say current gang activity is manageable, but they may face challenges if gang-related crimes take an upswing and become organized.

Officials have said gang-related crime in town comes in waves.

Livermore saw an increase in gang activity during the first months of 2011. Here are some of the stories Livermore Patch covered:

January

February

March

April

So what did the do in response?

They hammered it in the head, Livermore Officer Dave Blake said Tuesday night during a .

How?

Several patrol officers and a patrol sergeant were assigned to work on the problem as an adjunct duty, Blake said.

  • The group aggressively patrolled known gang areas in town and identified gang members.
  • Probation and parole searches were conducted and arrests were made.
  • Police renewed partnerships with the school district, juvenile and adult probation programs and other programs in town.

"It went away and it stopped," Blake said of the gang activity. "All the graffiti and fights went away — for the most part."

In July, as Patch reported, .

Police were able to get a handle on the increase in crime during the summer and since have had several months of no gang activity, Blake said.

Surenos vs. Nortenos

The majority of gang-related crime in town is generated from about 40 active members of the Sureno and Norteno gangs, police said.

Norteno and Sureno gangs have been in town for decades, police said, with little acts of violence between the two.

The gangs are primarily Hispanic but do include members of other ethnicities, said Officer Al Grajeda, who was part of the police department's gang unit.

Sureno gang members are known to wear blue clothing and associate with the number 13. South Side Riders (SSR) and Blue Rag Soldiers (BRS) are two known Sureno gangs in town.

Some examples of Sureno gang graffiti are "SSR, LSL, SUR, Chestnut and XIII," police said.

Norteno gang members are known to wear red clothing and associate with the number 14. Police said examples of Norteno gang graffiti are "LVM, Winos, Norte and XIV."

The Livermore Valley Mexicans (LVM) are a known Norteno gang in town.

Gang members are not sporting their colors as much as they did in the past, police said.

Many of them now wear over-sized white or black T-shirts and baggy jeans, Grajeda said. Police are also able to identify gang members through who they associate with and from tattoos, among other criteria shared at Tuesday's forum.

Gang-related crimes are usually directed toward a rival gang, police said.

"I don’t think citizens of Livermore have to worry about gang members going directly at them," Blake said. "They focus on each other. They hate each other."

In addition, the recent spike in in town are not gang-related, police said.

"(Gangs in town) are generally juvenile kids doing stupid stuff and getting in trouble," Blake said. "We are not dealing with Southern California crips and bloods."

What happened to the Gang Task Force?

The city of Livermore in 2008 couldn't escape the state budget crisis.

Police, like other city services, took a hit and its staff began to gradually decline, Livermore Police Chief Steve Sweeney said during a recent interview with Livermore Patch.

In 2009, the police department employed 95 officers. The department today has 83 officers.

Sweeney said the department had to re-prioritize in response to the staffing reductions.

Specialized units like the Gang Task Force were gradually phased out.

"We're always carrying around four to six injuries at a time and sometimes we don't have enough people to do those things," Sweeney said of the task force. "But that doesn't mean it's not being done. It's just being done in a different way."

Capt. Steve Gallagher said gangs are now part of a department-wide priority. Police are also working with school officials and other community groups on educating residents and parents on being proactive in helping youths avoid gangs.

"We are trying to do the best we can with what we have," Sweeney said. "I’m very proud of the efforts officers are making out there. And they are definitely making an impact.”

New faces and the next wave

Police at Tuesday's forum said the current state of gangs in town is at a point where it is manageable.

"It's not out of control," Grajeda said. "If we needed to we could get on top of it."

Still, not having a dedicated team keeping a keen eye on gangs does come with side effects.

Aside from being one of the department's gang experts, Grajeda now serves as the K-9 patrol unit with his dog, Fin.

He admits that he's losing touch with the gangs he used to watch over on a daily basis.

"There's so many new faces out there," Grajeda said. "There's no way to keep up with who is who in town on a patrol level."

Also, the follow-up on gang members is not a priority.

Grajeda, while a member of the gang unit, used to make house visits to keep members on probation in line.

"I would confiscate clothes, telephones, jewelry and anything else to strip them of their (gang) identity," Grajeda said. "Now, a lot of them go unchecked. There are no consequences. It's like raising a kid. You have to stay on them."

One positive is that local Surenos and Nortenos are unorganized groups.

"The biggest thing is to prevent that organization," Grajeda said. "If someone takes charge and decides to start running these gangs like a business, then that's when we'll have a problem."

Community effort

While police appear to be spread thin they are counting on residents to help.

"We need you to be our eyes and ears," Blake said at Tuesday's forum.

Residents are asked to report any suspected gang activity by calling the police dispatch line at 925-371-4987.

If the incident is life-threatening or an emergency, residents are asked to immediately call 911.

Police are asking callers to provide the following information when contacting police:

  • Clothing descriptions and number of individuals involved.
  • Vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers.
  • Weapons involved, if any.
  • Location and or the direction the group is moving.
MagnusT October 17, 2011 at 07:37 PM
No problem, we'll just get a measure passed requiring those who voted for the bond to pay for it themselves. Majority Rule sucks when you're the minority!
MagnusT October 17, 2011 at 08:28 PM
The budget issues are bigger than this town. Ultimately you have yourselves to blame, but the real culprits are the bankers.
Dudette October 19, 2011 at 05:33 PM
I really hope that there is a serious increase in removing the tags gangs paint. The house across the street from me was tagged on the sidewalk on both sides of their house (previous gang activity by the husband). It was a tag to make them move or join their gang. It took 3 phone calls and a threat of going to a city council meeting, and contacting every news group I could if someone didn't come and remove them. Immediately after that call they came and painted over it. That gave me a clear impression that gang activity wasn't important in Livermore unless someone was attacked or died. I hope we can make a damaging dent in this growing problem.
Rich Ellis October 24, 2011 at 02:26 AM
It is interesting there are "40 nortenos and surenos " in Livermore. There are 40 no votes for the return the task force.
mike October 24, 2011 at 04:21 AM
Rich-just write a check and make it out to your local PD and you should be fine.

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