Skinhead gang members reported in Kingman

Though the number of street gangs in Arizona is on the increase, the percentage of gang members per the state's population still remains well below the national average.

In a 1999 report by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission released this week, gang members are said to make up about .27 percent of the state's population.

Nationally, gang members constitute about 1 percent of a community's population.

"Since 1990, Arizona's gang population has not exceeded .3 percent of the state's total population," ACJC Executive Director Michael Branham said.

"This is good news and indicates that law enforcement, prosecution strategies and enhanced sentencing guidelines for gang related crimes are working."

The report stated that there are 34 documented gangs in Mohave County as compared to 30 gangs in 1998.

In Maricopa County, there were 393 documented gangs in 1999, a drop from 399 from the year before.

According to data maintained by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the number of gangs rose slightly in the state from 691 in 1998 to 726 last year, while the number of gang members actually dropped from 13,213 in 1998 to 9,743 last year.

The state's population is more than 4.9 million.

In Mohave County, a special coalition of officers works to address the gang problem.

Mohave County Sheriff's Office's six-member Gang Intelligence Team Enforcement Method (GIT-EM) task force is made up of one detective from the MCSO, one Kingman police detective, two Bullhead City police detectives and two officers from the state Department of Public Safety, Department of Public Safety Sgt.

Bob Williamson, head of GIT-EM, said.

The task force's goal is to identify gang members in the county through networking between the various law enforcement agencies and keeping close track of gang members' criminal careers, he said.

While gang activity is often associated with minority populations, in Kingman most local gang members are white and associated with white supremacists or skinheads, Williamson said.

He estimates there are about 35 to 40 documented gang members in the Kingman area.

Bullhead City, however, has about five times that, with about 200 identified members.

The casinos at Laughlin and the river traffic from large populations centers in California and Las Vegas are reasons why Mohave Valley, Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City have more problems with gangs, Williamson said.

Most members in Kingman are considered gang wannabes, not hard-core gang members.

They range in age from the mid-teens to the mid-20s.

Most gang members are male.

Gang activity tends to be multi-generational, or passed down from older brother or cousin to a younger sibling, he said.

Gang activity can also evolve from residents of certain neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods in Kingman more susceptible to gangs are the Butler and "Birdland" areas, according to Williamson.

Williamson said the task force keeps a close eye on gang activity.

Crimes committed by gang members will be dealt more harshly by the court system than if the same crime is committed by a non-gang member.

The task force works with Kingman schools to help identify potential gang members and deal with the students directly to keep them from heading down that path.

Signs of gang activity are lower grades and behavior changes, he said.

According to the commission's report, 5 percent of the state's students, between the ages of 12 and 16 years old, belong to gangs.

Half of all students reported they knew someone in a gang and almost 20 percent reported they had a gang member in their family.

The most frequent gang crimes were aggravated assault, burglary, criminal damage and narcotics trafficking, the report stated.

Mohave County school resource officers talk with kids directly, showing them an alternative to gangs and drugs, Williamson said.

Counseling sessions and after-school classes with parents are also solutions to keeping kids from joining gangs, he said.