‘Tagging’ may point to gang play

By Thomas Garcia: Quay County Sun

In recent weeks there has been an increase in graffiti in Tucumcari that could be linked to gangs.

Several cars and buildings have been “tagged” with spray paint, according to police records.

On Aug. 19-20, eight vehicles were reported to have been vandalized with spray paint and had similar markings, according to police reports.

“We do have gang activity but it is minor compared to other larger cities,” said Tucumcari Police Department detective Jack Hendrickson. “We are seeing more and more influence from outside cities.”

Sometimes, people are influenced by a person or group of persons that have moved into a new area from a gang-heavy city, said Amarillo Police Department Uniform Crime Analyst Cpl. Steve Powers.

Powers has worked with the Amarillo Police Department for 25 years. For 20 years, Powers has researched and dealt with gangs and for 16 of those years, he has served as a crime analyst for the department.

“I have taught classes for law enforcement in services and organizations like the P.T.A.,” said Powers. “I go over basic information that will help the parent and teacher identify that there is a problem and how to address it.”

Sometimes, “Members of a gang are moved by their families to keep them out or away from trouble,” said Powers. But, “That person can continue their gang lifestyle and possibly influence people to that lifestyle.”

There are about five groups that have been involved with the “tagging,” said Hendrickson. Some of the markings reported to the police department have similarities to gang symbols seen elsewhere, said Tucumcari Police officer, acting Lt. Patti Lopez.

“We have seen some of the symbols and markings that are similar to those found in larger cities,” said Lopez. “Although anyone that we have had in custody has denied any gang affiliation.”

Graffiti is the first indicator of gang activity, said Powers. “Graffiti is the newspaper of the street,” said Powers. “It can be found near schools or heavily trafficked hang-out spots such as malls or movie theaters. Gang members usually do not care about the owner of the property that they deface.”
A gang could be considered any group of people together that are committed to the same goal or outcome, said Hendrickson. Under that definition, youth organizations like the Cubs Scouts could be called gangs, but the “gang” connotation is marked with illegal activity.
“A gang will act together to achieve an illegal activity whether it be vandalism, drug usage or theft,” said Hendrickson. “We have seen several people locally wearing the same type of clothing identifying themselves to others as being part of a group. But we have not seen organized crime such as burglaries, thefts or assaults like other cities have seen from gangs.”

Tucumcari is experiencing the same problems that many towns it size are facing with gang activity, said Powers.

“In Texas a gang is three or more people that have come together with a commonality linking them together,” said Powers. “It could be anything from tattoos, colors and street names. In the 80s we looked at the clothing that people wore that were in gangs.”

Nowadays, with the clothing styles and different designer lines it has become increasingly harder to distinguish who actually is in a gang by looking at the clothes they wear, said Powers.

Many of the youth in Tucumcari who police have encountered who are involved in the vandalism or illegal activities have been in the age group of 13-19, said Lopez.

This summer, for example, the police often found several juveniles out after midnight, said Hendrickson.

School superintendent Aaron McKinney referred questions about gang activity in the schools to the principals. Tucumcari High School principal Michelle Potter said she is not aware of any teachers reporting gang activity.

“None of the faculty have reported gang activity this year,” said Potter. “I have been told that we have had an great start to the school year. The children are excited and positive about school this year.”

“Many of the parents of the juveniles, who we would make contact with or arrest, had no idea where their children were,” said Hendrickson. “Since there is no curfew law there has been a rise in alcohol and drug abuse by juveniles.”

Parents should keep track of who their children are hanging out with, said Lopez. Oftentimes, if their friends are in trouble, they are in trouble, said Lopez. Parents will notice a change in the child’s attitude towards them and authority, said Lopez.

About 75 percent of the problem with the children who are getting in trouble is the lack of parental involvement, said Hendrickson.
There are families where both of the parents work and the child is in school and sometimes they have little time to get involved, Hendrickson said.

But even a little time spent knowing what their children are doing can make a difference, said Hendrickson.

Often young children who are searching for identity get drawn in by the lure of a gang, said Powers.

“Younger children are often drawn into a gang because of the unity and the illusion of a family that it offers,” said Powers. “Once inside they often find themselves trapped in that lifestyle with no way to get out.”