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LA MESA -- The San Diego Association of Governments issued a report this week on the impact of gangs in San Diego County.
For the most part, the report was a macro analysis, reporting 7,500 "documented" gang members in the county with 158 different gangs of all stripes and descriptions, including new Somali gangs as well as the Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations that are so well established SANDAG has given them their own acronym -- MDTOs.
What the report didn't tell you was the unique role small cities like La Mesa play in San Diego gang culture. Based on police intelligence gleaned from arrests and investigations, officials believe the Jewel of the Hills is a bedroom community for San Diego Gang Land.
La Mesa Police Chief Ed Aceves revealed that there are 133 documented gang members who live in La Mesa and are known to police and monitored closely by his officers and members of the East County Regional Gang Task Force. One of Aceves' officers serves on that task force. But Aceves said police intelligence shows that these gang members seldom engage in their gang activity within La Mesa.
"The good thing is none of the gangs they are related to claim turf within the City of La Mesa,'' Aceves said. "We watch them and sometimes when crimes occur here, our officers will make contact to check on them, but for the most part their gang activities are elsewhere.''
But the monitoring of gang activity -- including the gathering of evidence required to become a "documented" gang member -- has become a subculture within local police agencies. Officers of the smaller police forces collaborate with the San Diego City Police and San Diego Sheriff's Department as well as federal agencies to document the names and "turf'' each of the gangs claim and to, wherever possible, chart members' identities. Gang membership is a fluid business with young people joining for short times and others staying for years.
Managing the gang problem has also strayed across jurisdictions in other ways. In attempts to distance some gang members from their "turf,'' probation requirements will sometimes force a San Diego gang member to live outside that city. Recently, other police sources say, these relocation efforts have resulted in clusters of gang members living in places like La Mesa and El Cajon while their gang business and turf remains back in a City of San Diego, for example. A major county-wide warrant sweep of gang members last year included significant arrests and confiscation of weapons and drugs in La Mesa, though major gang crimes have not been reported within the jurisdiction.
"This is exactly the situation we have here," Aceves said. "They are pushed to live outside their turf. Many of them are on probation so we can watch them. We know who they are.''
The full SANDAG Gang Involvement Report Among San Diego County Arrestees can be found by CLICKING HERE.