Sheriffs developing gang task force

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

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Lyon County has identified 120, Douglas County's numbers indicate at least 317, and in Carson City, the number of gang members and associates documented by law enforcement as operating in the city exceeds 600.

The sheriffs of these three closely related counties are hoping a $350,000 federal grant will help them tackle the area's growing gang presence with technology, backed up by determination.

"I think all three sheriffs and our prosecutors all agree we don't want these criminal gangs in our counties," said Lyon County Sheriff Allen Veil. "We are going to do everything within the confines of the law to encourage them to go elsewhere."

Still in its planning stages, the tri-county gang task force will be assigned an officer from each jurisdiction. Their main goal will be as liaison, providing information from one central database to whichever jurisdiction is investigating a gang incident.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong explained Friday that as it is now, a gang member on Carson City's list might live in Mound House and have never come in contact with Lyon County officers.

"So they are living in virtual silence to Lyon County, but they are very active with us," said Furlong.

He said the task force will be an investigative tool for the three agencies. No longer will they rely solely on their own intelligence.

"The gangs don't recognize the county lines, nor should we," said Veil.

Of the 317 gang members in Douglas County, Pierini said 60 belong to outlaw motorcycle clubs and a third of the remaining 257 are children in middle school and high school.

Furlong said he believed that in Carson City 50 percent of the documented gang members and associates were school-aged children.

Veil said his department has documented gang associates in almost all parts of his 2,016-square-mile county. But Fernley has the heaviest population of Hispanic gang members, while the more rural areas in the south of the county are seeing an increase in Straight Edge or Hate Edge gang members made up of predominantly white school-aged teens who are anti-smoking, drugs and alcohol, but have no problem with using violence to spread their message.

"They are starting to resort to destruction of property," he said.

"We don't want (gangs) to get a foothold here. We don't want them to get any worse than what it is. We're still ahead of the curve on it. We still have the opportunity to stop it."

Pierini also felt aggressive enforcement could make the difference.

"What we want to do is keep a real good handle on it, and the only way we can do that is to have better intelligence information. We should be working together because (gang members) are flowing from one county to another county."

Pierini said he also plans to use Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a tool to rid his county of illegal immigrants who are active in criminal gangs.

"We want to get rid of the people that are causing the problems, and we want to make sure that we have enough manpower to do that," he said.

To that end, Pierini last month asked Douglas County commissioners for $175,000 to hire two deputies and an investigator.

Commissioners did not approve the money, but allowed Pierini to hire three positions on his existing budget with the understanding that if he goes over budget they will cover the overage.

Furlong had taken a request to the voters in 2008 for a property tax increase that would have funded, among other public safety positions, a six-man team to target gang activity. Voters rejected the initiative, and Furlong had to do some creative budgeting. He was able to create two full-time gang officers from the existing roster of deputies.

"I realized then that the economy was going to be a major influence on the public safety initiative, I know that that had a major impact," Furlong said. "So I had to make it happen anyway. The need is so great, the violence that the gangs are perpetuating in our communities must be stopped."

The task force is expected to be up and operational in the coming weeks.


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