Violent street gangs have been quietly spreading out from their urban bases in North Jersey over the last five years and finding new ones in the suburbs of Bergen County, authorities say.
They are much less visible than they are in Passaic County, where gang members have staked clear claim to street corners with scrawled graffiti and clothes that spell out their allegiances—blue-and-white beads for the Crips and red bandannas for the Bloods.
But they have been flourishing nevertheless.
“Bergen County is not immune to gang activity—there is a presence here, and it has grown significantly the past few years,” said Hector Carter, a detective in the gang unit of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.
Recruitment is up throughout Passaic County, too, especially among Bloods members, said George “Ricky” Rosario, a sergeant with the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Gang Interdiction Unit.
“Gang problems are becoming endemic to all of North Jersey,” said Passaic County Prosecutor James Avigliano. “It’s not only Passaic County; it’s every county.”
Gangs’ infiltration into Bergen neighborhoods became violently public this weekend when 15-year-old Ricky Lee Smith was killed at a party in Teaneck attended by at least a dozen Bloods members, police said.
Teaneck Police Chief Paul Tiernan said officers are looking for the killer and have no motive.
Gangs in all counties
Authorities have identified 25 gangs in Bergen County, including “subsets” of the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and the Salvadoran gang MS-13, Carter said. The Passaic County gang unit has identified 275 Bloods members in Paterson split into at least eight different sets.
A 2004 state attorney general’s study said gangs were in all 21 counties and that gang members had been identified in urban as well as in suburban towns.
Some gang activity in Bergen is a spillover from such neighboring areas as Paterson, Union City and Washington Heights in Manhattan.
Sometimes gang members cross the border for parties, friends or their significant others, authorities say.
But experts say an increasing number of home-grown groups have aligned themselves with more well-known and powerful gangs like the Bloods, the Crips and the Latin Kings—the three largest gangs in North Jersey.