Gangs keep evolving and spreading like diseases, say experts at KC Conference


via Kansas City

Forget stereotypical gang colors and traditions. Today’s street gangs are evolving into jumbled hybrids where even Bloods sometimes wear blue and Crips sport red.

But they’re still dangerous, experts say. And more common.

This week the FBI reported that gangs were moving into rural and suburban areas, and that they committed as much as 80 percent of the crime in many communities.

Midwestern gangs also are spreading and tend to have strange names, habits and mixes of criminals and wannabes, experts said at this week’s Kansas Gang Investigators Association conference, which concluded Friday in Olathe.

“They’re comical, and they do stupid stuff,” gang expert David Starbuck told investigators. “Does that make them less of a threat? No. They want to be the Al Capone of Garden City.”

He added, “Will these guys shoot you in a minute? Hell yes.”

Starbuck led the Kansas City police gang unit until he retired in 2001, and now he teaches about gangs at conferences nationwide. He is president of the Missouri chapter of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association.

Gang traditions have faded so much that white supremacists work with black gangsters, and a Vietnamese group goes by the name of a Central American gang, Starbuck told officers.

The gang culture swirls and spreads through rap music, movies and clothing styles, he said. Gangs recruit on the Internet, and members are of every color, come from every social class and vary in each city.

Sgt. Jay Pruetting, who replaced Starbuck as head of the Kansas City police gang unit, said Kansas City’s gangs were generally loose affiliations of criminals who grew up together and took their gang names from rap songs.

It is not clear whether the recent shooting at a basketball game at the Tony Aguirre Community Center involved gangs or common thugs, he said.

Gangsters at public events sometimes flash signs and glare. If they open fire, innocent bystanders are usually the victims, Pruetting said.

Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning said his office had identified about 200 gangsters from about 25 gangs in the County Jail over the last two years. The gangs are hybrids and are not well-organized or very active within the county, he said.

“If they’re trafficking in drugs and prostitution, they are highly mobile,” he said, “and move in and out of Johnson County.”

There are now alliances of gangs such as the Folk and the People Nation, and numerous hybrid gangs made up of members of any number of gangs. Many Midwest gangs include women.

You get odd names like the Joplin Honkys and the Sedalia Knuckleheads in Missouri and the Pretty Boy Gangsters in Kansas.

The FBI report this week said there were about a million gang members and 20,000 criminal gangs as of last September, and they were spreading into rural and suburban areas.

Among their typical crimes, the report said, are trafficking in drugs and weapons, extortion, fraud, alien smuggling, armed robbery, assault, auto theft and murder.

Starbuck said police should be aggressive in combating them by knocking on doors, getting parents’ consent to search suspects’ rooms, confiscating contraband and working with schools, he said.

Pruetting said gang culture in Kansas City often passed from one generation to another and could be part of ongoing criminal actions within the family.

Tattoos are still a warning to parents and police. For instance, Roman numeral tattoos of 13 and 14 are gang signs. Some gangsters are more subtle and shave a small “1” into one eyebrow and a “3” in the other.

The keys to keeping children out of gangs are to stress manners, academics and strong parenting, he said.

“If you have those three things, they won’t be in gangs.”

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