For years, Jorge Alire has attended meetings between police and his neighborhood — the same community where a 19-year-old woman was killed and five others wounded last week in a gang-related driveby shooting.
Some of those meetings attracted as few as five people.
“And four of them were cops,” he said with frustration during a community meeting Monday at Galveston Elementary School in central Chandler.
Alire was one of at least 160 residents who came to hear whatever police could tell them about the shooting and what they could do to keep another one from happening.
Police are under scrutiny as the city has seen an increase in violence among gangs. With just two detectives assigned to gangs and 15 liaison officers, Chandler police have their hands full in a city where eight gangs reside.
Authorities have said the increase is partly due to older gang members, many of whom were locked up nearly a decade ago but who now have left prison and resumed their criminal lifestyles.
But Alire believes the blame for the increase in gangs and gang violence rests on parents who don’t keep up enough with their children’s lives — and on a police department that hasn’t always followed through on its promises and community members who remain passive as gangs take control.
“Stand up to them, they’re nothing more than kids,” Alire said. “If they have guns, don’t approach them, don’t try to be Rambo with them. But let them know that you’re there ... and make the phone call.”
Police said that while behind bars, the older gang members got smarter. They don’t flash gang signs or stick to the same area as they did 10 years ago, so their involvement is less apparent — and their activities more difficult to track.
“These are not ignorant people,” said Sgt. Burt Robinson, who heads Chandler’s criminal intelligence unit. “They’re very street savvy.”
Police noted in particular a spike in gang violence over the past year or so.
Since October 2005, there have been 21 incidents involving gang violence resulting in 25 arrests. Most of these incidents were clashes between rival gangs, including last week’s shooting that killed Lindsay Key, a Chandler woman. Police believe the gunfire was a response to a fight that happened earlier in the day.
“Most of the drive-by shootings we see are in retaliation toward another gang,” said Cmdr. Dave Neuman.
Investigators continue to follow up leads, but police have made no arrests and have no suspects at this point, Sgt. Rick Griner said.
Chandler police, along with about 30 officers from the state’s gang task force, increased monitoring of the area near last week’s shooting to try to suppress further violence.
But on Monday night, they tried to focus their efforts on public education and establishing trust so that residents will keep them informed about gang-related activity.
Members today tend to follow trends set by California gangs, officers told residents. For example, many East Valley gang members associate themselves with “480” to represent their area code, said detective Ron Kelley, one of Chandler’s two detectives assigned to gang crimes.
They also communicate with graffiti — “it’s their Internet,” Robinson said. Police urged residents to call authorities immediately when they find new graffiti. It provides clues as to what’s happening among local gangs. “And the sooner we get to it, the sooner we can get it covered up,” Kelley said.