BATTLEMENT MESA, COLO. - There are no gang "wannabes" in Garfield County, only gang "gonnabes," said two sheriff's deputies assigned to a recently formed anti-gang task force.
Deputies J. Miller and J. McCune, who don't use their real first names due to the potentially dangerous nature of their work, are members of the Threat Assessment Group, or TAG, in the sheriff's department. The group was formed after jail staff noticed an increase in gang members from California and elsewhere among the inmate population.
"Then we found some of them were hanging out by some of the schools, just off school property, trying to recruit new members," said Miller at the Tuesday, April 14 Grand Valley/Parachute Kiwanis Club meeting in Battlement Mesa.
TAG members track known gang members in the county and inform patrol deputies of their activities, Miller said, along with school resource officers, as well as train school staff and the public on ways to identify various gang members and how to counteract their presence.
"We tell everyone that there is no such thing as a gang 'wannabe,' because if they want to be a gang member, they're gonna be," McCune said. "They're walking the walk and talking the talk."
Among the identified gangs in the county are the Mexican Mafia and their "foot soldiers," the Surenos (known by their often grafitti-sprayed "SUR13" tag); the MS13 gang known for its brutal tactics in the El Salvadoran civil war; Neustra Familia and Nortenos; the Juggalos who "worship" the musical group Insane Clown Posse and their often racist and violent song lyrics, plus white gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood.
While many have Latino names, most are recruiting any one, said McCune.
Most of the clothing and colors associated with each gang are easily purchased on eBay, he added, and some recent assault cases in New Castle and Carbondale are believed to have been part of gang initiation rites.
Miller said a recent rise in home and business burglaries are also believed to be at least partly linked to gangs.
"We're not here to make everyone paranoid if you see someone wearing these clothes or acting differently," McCune said. "But if you do think someone like this is hanging around, approach them in a positive manner and talk to them. Most of them will move on if you ask them to because they don't want to get into trouble."