Task force says gangs held in check

Gang graffiti was once considered a harbinger of turf wars and violence, but law enforcement officers say two years of enforcement have kept those marks from being anything more than a nuisance.

In 2007, the countywide Gang Task Force — including officers from each city’s police department and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office — has arrested 307 adults and 33 juveniles mostly for felony violations, including weapons and drug possession, not for misdemeanors, Sgt. Tom Gallagher said.

Enforcement from the task force, which launched in fall 2005, is paying off. This year, gang tagging has not led to local violence, and residents are feeling safer, Redwood City police Detective Casey Donovan said.

“We’re also starting to see citizens involved — if they see something, they report it, whereas before they may have been afraid,” Donovan said.

But that hasn’t wiped out all the gang graffiti.

Redwood City police Sgt. Steve Blanc said local street gangs — factions of the Norteño and Sureño gangs — have recently left their spray-painted mark on more than a half-dozen buildings, including some in downtown Redwood City.

Since July 27, Sureño tags have appeared on buildings on Broadway near Chestnut, on Main Street, and at the Redwood Roller Rink on Middlefield Road. The rink’s tags were crossed out and replaced with a Norteño tag — usually a sign of tension, Blanc said. Graffiti is also regularly seen on Rolison Road, where the Rolison Road Gang members live.

“People do mark their territories,” Blanc said. “What’s been effective is we cover up the graffiti as soon as it’s discovered.”

Graffiti tagging escalated in the Stambaugh-Heller neighborhood in the summer of 2005, shortly before 16-year-old Victor Barajas was shot on the front porch of a home at 611 Heller St. His death was one of 13 San Mateo County homicides police identified as gang-related that summer.

After Barajas’ death, the Stambaugh-Heller neighborhood chipped in for its own security cameras and began reporting suspicious activity every time neighbors spotted it.

The recently tagged Redwood Roller Rink also takes a zero-tolerance policy toward suspicious activity, owner Susie Pollard said.

“The police have said that the graffiti does indicate gangs claiming turf, which is why they come and cover it up,” Pollard said. “We have not experienced any violence in our facility — we won’t have it.”

Gangs leaving their mark

Recent tags and their locations in Redwood City:

» July 26: “XIV/Norte” at 1305 Middlefield Road

» July 27: Sureño gang symbols at 1600 Broadway

» July 30: “Sur/13” at 1303 Main St.

» July 31: “Sur/RWC” spray painted over tag at 1305 Middlefield Road

» Aug. 1: “CXLS/Sur 13” on house on Arguello Street

» Aug. 2: “Sur” on Heller Street house

» Aug. 6: “X4” on a utility box at Ebener Street and Redwood Street

» Aug. 6: “Puro Sur” on building on Rolison Road

– Source: Redwood City Police Department

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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