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In Our Midst: Making Their Mark

September 15, 2006|By Mary O'Keefe

PART 1 of 4

Editors note: This four-part series is not designed to scare, but to inform our community of the increasing gang presence in the foothill area. The goal is to make us aware what resources are available and how to best work — together — to eradicate this problem before it escalates.

Gangs have been in existence for centuries. The term "thug" dates back to 1200 AD India, referring to a gang called "Thugz" that roamed the countryside. They had their own symbols and hand signs.

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Today when people hear the word "gang" an image of graffiti ridden buildings lining downtown Los Angeles comes to mind. However gangs are not limited to just a few neighborhoods. Today's gangs are organized, they recruit and they are mobile.

Suburban areas like La Cañada and the greater Crescenta Valley have remained relatively isolated from gang activity but the valley is not immune to their influence, say local law enforcement officials.

"They have cars," said officer Jason Lee, spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department. "We can't stop them from traveling."

An initial signal that gangs are moving into an area is the appearance of graffiti on public buildings. Many foothill residents may be unaware of any graffiti in the area, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. A local organization known as Volunteers in Pride (VIP) has been on graffiti patrol for years. Established in 1991, VIP volunteers clean graffiti as soon as they find it or it is reported. They work closely with law enforcement and have sent representatives to Washington, D.C. in support of anti-gang and anti-graffiti bills. When they find graffiti they first record it, then clean it.

"[Employing LAPD] Chief [Bill] Bratton's policy of 'broken windows' can be really effective," said Lee. The "broken windows" policy is based on a theory that graffiti and other crimes decrease when signs of criminal activity are taken care of immediately.

That is why VIP volunteers respond quickly, cleaning graffiti. The organization covers areas in La Cañada, La Crescenta, Glendale and Griffith Park. In recent months, VIP members have seen not only an increase in graffiti in the LCF and CV areas but more bold symbols of a gang dispute.

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