Gangs: Small-Town America’s Big-City Battle

Bianca Prieto, Rocky Mountain News, June 7, 2007

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Talk gang violence, and many people think of larger cities, such as Denver and Aurora.

But authorities say violence and the lure of street gangs don’t just happen in urban centers. Rural communities, like Greeley, are also grappling with them. And in turn, so are the small towns that border them.

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Three years after a particularly troubling rash of violent gang-related crimes, Greeley officials are optimistic they’ve got their problems under control.

“We would admit that we have a gang presence that most cities do,” said Police Chief Jerry Garner. “That’s just kind of a fact of life today.”

But Garner and Greeley Mayor Tom Selders insist their community is safe.

Violent crime statistics for 2006 show a marked downward trend. Armed robberies, burglaries and thefts were down, in percentages ranging from 17 percent to 44 percent. Rape was the only crime that went up.

Gang-related violence, including homicides, aggravated assaults and burglaries, decreased by more than half, from an all-time high of 44 in 2004 to 17 in 2006, police say.

Nonetheless, some officers and community leaders say there is little room to celebrate.

“I don’t think we are on a downward trend,” said Ed Clark, a recently retired gang unit detective. “I think we are managing a problem right now. The only reason we are making those strides is because we are putting more resources into the gang unit.”

Homicide link

Since 2004, nine of Greeley’s 11 homicides have been linked to gangs, according to police.

The city’s gang unit has tracked more than 500 gang members within the city limits. To make the list, a member has to be associated with a known street gang and linked to a specific crime.

Greeley has roughly one gang member for every 175 people, while Denver’s ratio—with 8,811 gang members—is one for every 63 people.

The two biggest gangs in Greeley are Hispanic. Police say most of the members are U.S. citizens.

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