KSWT EXCLUSIVE: “GANGS IN THE DESERT SOUTHWEST” PT.1

YUMA, Ariz. – There’s an ongoing battle on our streets, a war not fought for patriotism or liberty but for money and power. They use fear and terror as a weapon, sometimes resulting in death.
“Gangs are to be feared they operate with a pack mentality and exhibit great violence”, says Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Craig Kleffman.  According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation there are over 33,000 gangs across the united states with more than one million members. All of them use violence to control their turf and deal with illegal sources for profit. The Desert Southwest is no exception.

The Yuma Police Department says there are at least 13 gangs in Yuma. most they say are dormant but that has not stopped cases of extreme violence. It was a tragic end to 2015 as a 7 year old girl and 8 year old boy were shot on December 27th. As bullets filled the car they were in with their mother, who miraculously was not injured by the barrage of bullets The Yuma Police Department says it was gang related. Luckily the 2 children survived the horrific ordeal but are dealing with a long road of physical and mental recovery at a Phoenix hospital. YPD is still investigating the case.
“It’s kids, kids did nothing to nobody we hope someone saw something and will call us”, says YPD Sgt. Lori Franklin. It was a fatal start to 2016 with another gang related shooting, a 15 year old student at Yuma High School, Victor Sanchez was shot on January 9th in a quiet Yuma neighborhood. Witnesses described a drive by shooting with several shots fired in the middle of the night.  Sanchez was rushed to the hospital but died from his injuries 4 days later.  “The enhanced violence that comes with gang activity is absolutely incredible”, says Kleffman. Craig Kleffman has been prosecuting gangs for over 10 years and has published books on the topic, his views in this report are his own expertise and not on behalf of his employer.

The way modern street gangs across the country are organized and operate can be traced back to the city of angels. “Los Angeles is ground zero for gangs…the Hispanic gangs here go back 4 or 5 generations the violence has permeated into southern counties and the country, continent and the world”, says Kleffman. To understand what is being done to counter this gang violence in Yuma, 13 On Your Side rode along with the Yuma Police Department’s Special Operations Group for several nights.  Due to the advantage of secrecy and being unpredictable we won’t reveal their tactics in-depth.

The first night of our ride along suspected gang activity was unusually quiet. The reason may be just the day before the Special Operations Group made an elaborate arrest of a man they were after for a while, Enrique Corona Junior, who is now facing 15 felony charges with possible gang related weapon and drug charges. Our cameras were rolling at the seen On Thursday January 14th as he fled from police and then was surrounded at the Yuma Recycling Center as YPD and U.S. border patrol were taking no chances, equipped with tactical gear and even a helicopter they were able to bring him into custody without incident. Officer Joe Franklin with YPD says, “The only thing its [gang life] going to lead to is injury death or confinement in the state prisons.”

The following night on our ride along suspicious activity did increase slightly but it wasn’t until the early morning hours a gang related arrest was made, the call comes in just after 3 a.m. we rush to the scene with our cameras rolling. Police arrest three men in possession of meth. Officers say the three men are suspected of being part of a gang. Police say that drugs are commonly found on gang members. Drugs are a major part of gang operations. “When they come across a big surplus of drugs they will sell them to buy weapons etc.”, says Joe Franklin.

The Southwest border is a key asset for gangs and the drug trade, Kleffman says “Gangs will use the Southwest Border to bring in drugs, particularly Hispanic gangs, will get it at a lower wholesale price and bring it into their own networks usually in the prison system”. Prisons! The place where convicted criminals are supposed to go to pay for their crimes, a financial tool for gangs? According to the FBI and several other agencies Prison gangs often have a strong hold over illegal street gang activity and even earn more than street gangs from drug trafficking. “The amounts are 10 to 100 times street value”, says Kleffman.

Many gangs claim territory, its part of how they try and show their power and a factor that can lead to bloodshed, over territory disputes. Alot can be understood by tagging, its an act often associated with gangs. Many have their own unique mark and will try and claim an area but sometimes this act can help law enforcement gather information. Kleffman says, “It helps show where gangs are very active as well cus you can see it from their tagging”. When you see a mark crossed out it can be a sign of violence to come as Kleffman explains, “It means that they have killed or will kill that gang member”.

The Yuma Police Department says a person of just about any age can join a gang but officers have noticed many teenagers represent gangs, posing a concern at high schools to try and deter gang influences. “Certain gangs will claim a sports hat or type of clothing the schools will ban those types of things…” says Joe Franklin. The fight against gang recruitment may start at home. “Family, family, family take involvement in your child’s life the more you do that the less likely your kid will join a gang” says Kleffman. Joe Franklin adds, “It’s never too late to leave the gang life the Yuma Police Department just wants the whole community to be safe”. 13 On Your Side anchor Chorus Nylander askes Craig Kleffman “Do you think gangs will ever go away?” he responds, “No, we can reduce them but we can never ever eliminate them.”

To help the family of the 8 year old boy and 7 year old girl that were shot in Yuma, they have set up a gofundme page that you can visit here: https://www.gofundme.com/8fhbm2bw

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