Nine years later: Update on Carson City gangs and graffiti | NevadaAppeal.com

Nine years later: Update on Carson City gangs and graffiti

Ronni Hannaman

Sheriff Kenny Furlong has reason to smile — gang activity has decreased significantly since 2009.

With daily news reports of gang shootouts and knifings in cities all across America, I thought it would be good time to update our community on where the city stands when it comes to dealing with local gang issues. As we all know, growth brings challenges and sometimes those challenges include attracting those less than savory characters causing discomfort in an otherwise sedate and perceivably safe community.

Sometimes it takes a bit of toughness by law enforcement and citizen support to allow the Sheriff and the TriNet Gang Unit to do the work to keep our city and surrounding counties safe even though it may not be politically correct to some. But, we think even those who decry what they perceive as profiling and citizen's rights — no matter how unsavory the citizen — want to be safe in their homes and on public streets.

Nine years ago, there was a burgeoning gang problem in Carson City and the region, one that would explode further if not addressed head on. There was no "nipping this in the bud," for the gang issue had become full blown and it seemed everyone was looking the other way — the old head in the sand approach. Little was being done to be proactive, instead dealing with the issues as they happened.

A sure sign of gang activity was the graffiti once seen everywhere and not restricted to the known gang areas. Graffiti was seen on downtown buildings and within upscale neighborhoods. Sometimes it took weeks to remove the offensive graffiti.

All that changed in October 2009 when the Chamber's Quality of Life Committee — chaired by the then Chamber Chair Phillip Harrison — decided to become proactive and reach out to the community and law enforcement. For as Harrison still asserts, "I was very concerned then, for gang activity will kill the economy quickly and good business will move out and it would take us a long time to repair our reputation."

That reach out included inviting the then Mayor of Salinas, California, to address a large audience on what needed to be done to keep gangs in check. Dennis Donahue was in his first term as Salinas mayor and his task was to take back his city from gangs for no matter how much Salinas had done to revitalize the city, the reputation was that his city was gang-infested and unsafe. People no longer came to see the home of author John Steinbeck and the tourism economy suffered and businesses closed. His message to our community was to be proactive now before things got worse.

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In 2009, Carson City had 800 known gang members, a lot for a city of our size.

Sheriff Kenny Furlong and then Carson City District Attorney Neil Rombardo listened closely to the advice and reacted. The war was on to clean up graffiti and make gangs feel uncomfortable doing whatever gangs do in any community. There was a pledge to be proactive rather than reactive.

Today, rarely is graffiti seen anywhere. But, the best news is known gang members have dwindled down to 79, according to Furlong. From 800 to 79 — quite the feat.

Furlong is proud of our graffiti free community stating, "While citizens are still sleeping in the early morning, our inmates are busily checking out the community to see whether there has been any tagging — and if there was, it is painted over right then and there." No citizen would be the wiser.

The Sheriff asserts, "Seeing graffiti in your neighborhood can ruin your day before your day even begins." Harrison remarked, "What a change from 2009! Today, there's much less graffiti — in fact, almost zero!"

Many of our visitors from major cities continually cite the cleanliness of this city and the lack of graffiti as one of the reasons they enjoy coming here or are looking to relocate. It makes us proud to be able to say our region and our city law enforcement is very proactive and tough on gangs, for many of them are looking to escape their gang-infested communities.

Furlong is proud of the role the TriNet Gang Unit plays in identifying what could be a problem before it becomes a problem. Organized in 2011, Carson, Lyon and Douglas now work together to identify possible gang activity and share intelligence with the goal to stop the inflow of gangs to our city and our region and to make the gangs aware of the "zero tolerance" policy.

It's a bit more difficult to identify gangs these days according to the FBI, since gang members rarely show their colors unless at sponsored gang events. They also no longer show off their tattoos to avoid identification, so it was of concern when suddenly the gang unit noticed a number of persons wearing red, the color of the Bloods.

Furlong noticed a man outside his office wearing all red and decided to approach him stating, "Your attire caused me to notice you," and immediately recognized the individual as a known member of a gang. Though there was no reason to detain the individual, Furlong made him aware that he "was not welcome in this jurisdiction," and would be watched.

He added, "Some may think my stopping this individual would be considered profiling, or is it intelligence?" Depends on your political point of view, but many would agree "an ounce of prevention, etc." is far more practical than dealing with the aftermath of gang-related violence.

The Sheriff's Gang Unit has been trained in Los Angeles and has learned first hand what can happen to a community when gangs are not kept in check. Their commitment is to continue to be vigilant at all times to keep us all safe.

Furlong admits gang activity has not been eradicated — and perhaps never will be. But, the violent gang activity has subsided greatly thanks to "intel" and community involvement in reporting suspicious activity. He further vows not to "back off, because if we do, gangs will proliferate."

The gang unit is here to stay and with community alertness and a commitment to zero tolerance, Carsonites can rest assured everything is being done to keep our community and our region as safe as possible. Neighborhoods once known for gang activity are now being revitalized and made safe again.