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Sheriff declares 'war' on gangs

As east Hillsborough County grows, so do gangs. More resources will be devoted to combating the problem.

Published January 14, 2005

Dover is home to four rival gangs, including the Dover Locos, one of two east Hillsborough gangs on a state Department of Corrections watch list. The other is Wimauma's Black Angels gang. The most notorious of the Dover gangs may be Sur 13, an offspring of a Southern California gang. The Surenos, Spanish for southerners, moved into Dover in the late 1990s and draw members from as far as Polk and Sarasota counties.

Another gang, Norte 14, arrived more recently and occupies the Dover area east of Plant City. Its members are called Nortenos, or northerners, though Dougherty said the territorial names are misleading. "They're spread out," she said. "Some of them live next door to each other."

The fourth gang is KCS, or Kings Con Surenos, which includes Sur 13 gang members and remnants of a mostly disbanded gang, the Cholo Kings.

But not all the problems stem from organized gangs of teens and 20-somethings. Some of the violence in Heather Lakes, Laugherty said, is likely caused by younger neighborhood kids. In fact, by the Sheriff's Office's definition, a gang could be defined as a gathering of just three people who dress alike or engage in crime.

Laugherty has seen gang symbols spray-painted near the Heather Lakes entrance. That area, he said, is known by some residents as the Heather Lakes Ghetto - an unfortunate moniker, he said, but "if you drive through there, that's exactly what it looks like."

Countywide, graffiti remains a chronic problem. In Gibsonton, deputies have brought juvenile offenders out to repaint businesses that have been tagged three or four times, often with gang symbols. Several Dover-area businesses have complained to authorities, but many have resigned themselves to living with the graffiti on their walls.

At Economizer IGA, a grocery store on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, gang graffiti was such a nuisance last year that the owner installed surveillance cameras, said Karina Ramos, an employee. So far, new graffiti has not come up.

Gangs come and go

Conigliaro's Gang Suppression Unit has at least one officer in each of the county's four sheriff's districts. Their job it is to identify signs of gang activity, such as graffiti symbols and colors.

Occasionally they collaborate with other criminal units on long-term gang investigations, but officers in Gang Suppression focus mostly on working with at-risk teens and their families and educating the public about how to spot and combat gang activity. "A lot of parents don't want to believe that their child is involved in gangs," said Dougherty, who has confronted parents of suspected gang members. "But I tell them, "Don't fool yourself. This is important. You need to know what your child is doing.' "

Gee declined to elaborate this week on the specifics of his gang plan, but said in the next few days the Sheriff's Office will unveil more details on how it plans to combat gang activity in east Hillsborough, especially Dover and Brandon. Gee also plans to install in each district a habitual offender unit, whose job it will be to monitor individuals with multiple arrests, such as gang members.

"We are throwing more assets at the problem," Conigliaro said. "The difficulty with the gangs is a lot of times, there are witnesses and associates in and around the gang that don't cooperate with law enforcement, which makes it a challenge at times to gather the intelligence (needed for conviction). But like anything else, it can be overcome with a good strong operational plan."

That's good news for residents. But they've seen gangs come and go. Each week, they see new evidence of gang activity, whether it be graffiti or drug paraphernalia.

Laugherty, whose association includes 1,250 homes, says he won't believe Gee's plan until he sees it in action.

"But if it would bring light to it and actually get us some help in here," he said, "I would be more than grateful."

Times staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442. Eddy Ramirez can be reached at 661-2441.

How to help Anyone with information about suspected gang activity can call the Hillsborough sheriff's Crime Stoppers line at 1-800-873-8477.

[Last modified January 13, 2005, 10:12:10]

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