Local News

April 13, 2014

Police: Dalton’s gangs still active

About six years ago, Dalton’s “gang problems” garnered enough public attention to prompt police and community leaders to hold meetings and forums aimed at addressing the issue.

Today, thanks partly to a state law that has made it easier to prosecute gang activity and increased penalties for many gang-related offenses from misdemeanors to felonies, the so-called “gang problem” is significantly less noticeable, officials said.

That doesn’t mean it’s gone. Although the gang that accused murderer Orlando Ramirez is a member of, the Hard Time Surenos, has surfaced more in the public eye since Ramirez was charged with fatally shooting one security guard and injuring another at a nightclub on Morris Street on March 23, Dalton police say members of just about every major known gang are in the Dalton area.

“If you ask ‘Does Dalton have a gang problem?’” said Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier, “If you’ve got one gang member, it’s a problem.”

One difference that sets Dalton apart from some major metro areas is that gang members here tend not to have the heated rivalries sometimes seen in larger cities, officials said. Detective Chris Tucker, an investigator for the Conasauga Safe Streets Task Force that makes inquiries into gang activity in several jurisdictions, including Whitfield and Murray counties, said Dalton police hadn’t in recent years connected gang members to many high-profile crimes until they charged Ramirez with fatally shooting Las Delicias security guard Bruno Rodriguez and shooting and wounding another guard.

The most high-profile crime police have said was committed by a gang member before that was when five men were charged in the shooting death of 16-year-old Dalton High School football player Andre Johnson in 2007. Officials said a rivalry between the Crips, a gang Johnson claimed although he was not technically a member, and the Tiny Winos gang, spurred the shooting.

Frazier said Dalton police routinely visit schools and talk with civic and other groups upon request to educate them about the state of gangs in Dalton and what they can do to combat them. More than anything, he said, it’s important for parents to be involved in their children’s lives and pay attention to clues.

Tucker said older gang members often recruit their prospects while they’re still young teens, even in middle school. Members who are that young won’t face penalties at the same level as adults, he said, and gang leaders often exploit that fact. Teachers are often the first to notice something may be amiss, he said. In some cases, it’s because a student is drawing gang-related symbols on his books or homework. Other times, the child is making gang symbols or deliberately dressing in a particular gang’s colors.

In Dalton, there are the Surenos, a loose network of gangs with origins in Mexico, and the Nortenos. There are also Bloods, Crips and just about any other major gang typically on the radar in larger cities, Tucker said. Not all gangs locally are Hispanic, Tucker added. There’s an active motorcycle gang, the Outlaws.

Property owners and authorities work quickly to cover up tags — gang-related graffiti often painted on buildings without the owners’ permission — and there have been numerous instances of such tagging in and around Dalton.

Also unlike some of the gangs in larger areas, gangs in Dalton aren’t historically known for claiming territories that are easily identifiable on a map, Tucker said. Despite the rivalry authorities said prompted the shooting of Johnson in 2007, Tucker said most local gang members today don’t have ongoing rivalries.

To contact the Dalton Police Department about scheduling a presentation on gang activity, call the department at (706) 278-9085.

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