Graffiti doesn’t mean gangs, cops say |

Graffiti doesn’t mean gangs, cops say

Pete Fowler
Vail, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Local law enforcement agencies have seen some increases in graffiti and tagging recently, but say they don’t believe it’s a sign of serious gang activity in the area.

On July 29, a Glenwood Springs Police officer was shot in the chest but survived because he wore a bulletproof vest.

Sheriff Lou Vallario said that the two suspects taken into custody in the shooting appear to have gang-related tattoos such as three dots between the thumb and index finger and a “Sur 13” tattoo. Sur 13 is a recognized southern California gang.

“We don’t think it was any gang-related, ‘I shot a cop’ induction to a (gang) hall of fame, we just think they got caught doing something and that was their response,” Vallario said. “It concerns me because this is extremely uncommon and never happened around here before.”

Vallario said the two men in custody in the shooting case are not illegal immigrants and don’t come from gang-heavy areas like Los Angeles.

Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson said Glenwood has seen more tagging and graffiti over the past year and last several months.

“We’re starting to see some stuff that bears a closer look and seems to be more closely related to actual gang type tagging,” he said. “It’s definitely a serious concern. It’s potentially a very large problem. But there’s a little bit of a split between how much is the real deal and how much of it is wannabes.”

Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said all the graffiti Carbondale has seen so far has been just kids messing around.

“We have a lot of wannabe gangsters but they’re not real gangsters,” he said. “It’s mostly teenagers screwing around.”

The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office recently began doing gang awareness education in schools and for other organizations.

Vallario, Wilson, Schilling and others have said high-profile violent types of crimes are increasing in the area largely due to growth. New people are arriving such as oil and gas workers, other temporary laborers and immigrants. But increasing high-profile, violent crimes haven’t been connected to any tagging or serious gang activity.

Besides the officer shooting, a man was shot to death at the Ponderosa Lodge in West Glenwood Springs on June 25; on June 26, someone or multiple people fired shots into a Basalt 7-Eleven store window after an apparent confrontation with an employee there.

In each of the three shooting cases suspects are Latino. Catholic Charities called meetings to talk about racial tensions after the murder and 7-Eleven incidents.

In October 2006, police believe a Colorado State Patrol trooper was shot by Steven Appl, who was white, during a traffic stop near Silt. The trooper survived and Appl later committed suicide before being apprehended.

Glenwood Springs attorney and former public defender Greg Greer said it would be racist to take two or three recent high-profile crimes and make broad-based conclusions.

“In my 20 years of criminal defense in this valley, I have seen a rise and fall in crime,” Greer said. “It’s almost like a tide coming in and going out. To attribute an increase in crime to one part of the population is not accurate.”

He worked in the regional public defender’s office for more than 20 years and recently formed his own law firm to continue criminal defense work.

He said it’s very common to see more criminal filings in the summer, and that they involve all kinds of segments of society. Greer also attributed increased crime to growth.

“Right now there’s a lot of focus and intensity because we have a homicide,” he said. “And things will settle down.”

He said he believes there isn’t any serious gang activity in the area. He said that there has been local concern since the early 1990s when gangs became prominent in Denver, but that he’s never seen anything much beyond tagging.

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