Statewide, crime numbers are up in small towns and, for the first time, authorties tell us it’s mostly contributed to an increase in gang activity. Cordell Jordan and photographer Johnathan Uhl went to the Panhandle where gang members are recruiting children.
Just like here in the city, when kids join a gang in rural communites many commit four felony crimes before being introduced to the gang. Authorities warn your town could be next.
Guymon, Oklahoma, a town of about 11,000 people, set right in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle, Guymon is the largest city in an area once known as no-man’s land. Now, it’s becoming known for something else.
As the sun goes down, police are seeing more and more signs this once hushed community is getting loud with gang activity.
As lead investigator for the Texas County DA’s Gang Task Force, Tim Landess notices gangs from Los Angeles, Denver and even Mexico are here actively recruiting members, bringing with them a spike in crime.
Trooper Sheets says Highway 54, the main thoroughfare through Guymon has long been a route for drug trafficking, making this a good stop for gangs.
There’s another reason Guymon may be a focus of gangs. Nationwide, Hispanic gangs are becoming more prevelant, During 2003, Latino gang members were blamed for more than 30 homicides in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Home to several new pork processing plants, Guymon has seen a 2,000 person increase in its Hispanic population, most moving here to work at Seaboard Farms.
To protect its Hispanic students from gang recruitment, Guymon schools have a no-tolerance policy for gang activity.
It’s that no-tolerence that the city adopted as well, a policy that so far, has been effective here, but officials warn it could happen in any small town.
Task force members tell me the first signs of gang activity in a community is spray-painted graffiti. They add it takes everyone’s involvment to keep gangs out of small towns. The state Gang Investigators Association says one way for small towns to do that is to focus on offering more options for children in the community.