THV Extra: The changing face of gangs

    10:59 PM, Feb 11, 2013   |    comments
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    TEXARKANA, Ark. (KTHV) -- For years, gangs have been associated with drive-by shootings, drugs and other serious criminal activity. But Texarkana Police says it seems as times have changed, so have the gangs, moving the battle from the streets to the internet.

    They flooded the natural state in the early 90's, gangs separated by colors and territory, dealing drugs and gunning down their rivals on a daily basis. After 70 murders and more than 4,000 assaults in 1993, Little Rock Police quadrupled their force, dropping the crime rate by more than 50%.

    Now, 20 years later the days of gang affiliations seem to be over but one Arkansas town knows better.

    "It's still the same thing today. They just rival over nothing really," says Officer Less Colley with the Texarkana Arkansas Police Department.

    He has patrolled the streets of Texarkana for 6 years, his main assignment, gangs.

    "You would know, okay all these guys are wearing red, this must be their area. All these guys are wearing blue, this must be theirs. It's not like that anymore," says Officer Colley.

    While there may be certain cliques on each side, the real dividing line between gangs in Texarkana rests in the heart of town. The state line that separates Texas from Arkansas also divides local gangs.

    "I guess it's a little bit like brothers and sisters. They fight amongst each other but if they get into it with the other kids down the block then they'll join together," says Officer Colley.

    Police say the fight usually isn't over guns or drugs but music.

    Officer Kristin Mitchell says its local entertainment groups that have moved the battle from the streets to YouTube. The Texarkana rap world is the new form of gangs.

    "The signs, they change so much but this video is some of the gang signs we see here in Texarkana, yes," says Officer Mitchell.

    Police say the online battle eventually becomes physical, with gangs meeting up to settle their differences. That fight is usually also posted online.

    "I think that in a lot of the music that these kids make, there is a lot of violence in the lyrics they talk about and drugs, money and fame is what it's all about it seems like. So if that's what you hear every day, that's what you turn into. Most of them range anywhere from middle school all the way up to early 20's, anywhere in between there," says Officer Colley.

    Officer Colley says last October, one of those fights left a young girl shot in the leg at Chapel Ridge Apartments. Months before, another child shot in the hand. Both injuries, police say, caused by stray bullets from rival gangs.

    "A lot of it is just the group mentality. You know, one or two of these guys hanging out together is probably not going to be a problem but when you start to get 10, 15 and 20, you know it's usually never anything good," says Officer Colley.

    That's why Texarkana Police created the "Gang Suppression Unit", a group of investigators from both Texas and Arkansas solely focused on cleaning up the streets. The problem is many of the members are repeat drug and violent offenders. As soon as they got out, more trouble would start. That is when Texarkana officers took a different approach.

    "The detectives working the cases, they really started focusing on nuisance abatements, things like that to get these guys locked up in some federal time," says Officer Mitchell.
    Last fall, investigators arrested several members of the group "4block", a gang heavily involved in drug trafficking and violent activity. A federal judge handed down their sentences last month, a total of forty four years. But officers say the hard time isn't enough.

    "This is a group that are now in the pen but in the video we just showed you is another group coming up so you know it's always a revolving door," says Officer Mitchell.

    "Some of them stay clean, stay out of trouble and then others you know get right back in the game as soon as their feet hit the ground," says Officer Colley.

    It's a cycle police say that has continued for years and is showing no signs of stopping. Just changing faces with the times.

    "They've got to find something that gives them a sense of self worth," says Officer Colley.

    Texarkana police says their gang suppression unit arrested 38 gang members last year for violent acts and has since eliminated most gang activity in their area.

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