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Chat with the Chief, Part 1: Gangs in Redding

Gang problems in cities are a lot like nasty, invasive plants. If you allow them to spread and grow roots, they can be extremely hard to remove.

In this respect, Redding has a huge advantage. Gangs haven’t been able to sink their roots deeply into the community like they have in a lot of other cities around California.

“If most people don’t perceive that there’s a gang problem in Redding, well that’s good,” said Redding Police Chief Peter Hansen in a wide-ranging interview with the News Cafe on Tuesday. “But there are reasons for that.”

Redding Police Chief Peter Hansen

Those reasons, in Hansen’s mind, center around north state law enforcement agencies — with community support — having a zero tolerance policy about gangs over the past few decades.

In this story, we’ll illuminate Hansen’s thoughts about gangs and the recent flare up of gang-related activity in Redding. In a follow up piece, we’ll hear about Hansen’s thoughts on issues like red-light cameras and how the recession has affected crime in the area.

Chiefs in other cities have been implicit with Hansen (and Bob Blankenship and Leonard Moty before him) that it’s much easier to prevent gangs from coming in, than to be in a management mode once they’ve been established.

In June, there were three gang-related shootings in Redding. Three of the four main suspects in those cases are in custody and there’s a warrant out for the fourth suspect.

The suspects have ties to Mexican prison gangs, whose membership is no longer limited to ethnicity, Hansen said.

“These gangs are set up like the military,” Hansen said. “They’re very sophisticated and they run their operations from prisons. We’ve intercepted (gang) correspondence saying that Redding is a target. It’s wide open territory.”

Before delving deeper into gangs, let’s first address the issue of politics that will inevitably seep into this discussion.

Hansen, who has 27 years of experience with the Redding Police Department, is stepping down as chief in November. Though he hasn’t discussed the matter publicly, it’s somewhat understood that recent City Council decisions resulting in layoffs for a number of officers was a driving factor for his decision.

Some people believe that ratcheting up the discussion about gang violence can be viewed as an attempt to scare the public and lobby the community against more cuts to law enforcement. When I asked Hansen about that possibility, he emphatically denied that it was a factor.

Media outlets (including the News Cafe) are initiating conversations with the chief about gang activity based on a series of real events. Hansen mentioned that he was also accused of playing politics because he held a press conference that included District Attorney Jerry Benito on the day of the recent DA’s election. The press conference was to announce the arrest of an Anderson police officer accused in a sexual assault case.

“I didn’t care about that (DA’s) race, but can you imagine what would have happened if we didn’t have a press release about the arrest of an officer?” Hansen said. “Sometimes we really can’t win.”

(A couple personal thoughts. When bullets fly around Caldwell Park, it’s not me that has to go down there and deal with it, it’s Hansen’s officers. Frankly, I’m sympathetic to a chief who’s motivated to protect his resources. Secondly, it might be hard to believe in this polarized age, but not everything should be wedged into a political discussion. Sometimes people are just looking for the best way to do their jobs.)

Redding may not have a major gang problem, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gang members here.

There are 175 “documented” gang members within the city limits. Those are people who have met criteria used by police to determine that they have ties to gangs.

There are three major types of gangs that police have identified: locally grown youth gangs (often involved in assault cases); ethnic street gangs (more sophisticated and with out-of-town roots); and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Hansen said there are four keys to combating gang problems. First is community education. Second is building relationships with minority communities, schools and other groups that can detect the upswing in gang activity. Third is aggressively responding to gang crimes with a lot of resources. Fourth is a collaborative law enforcement effort from several agencies.

“Our ability to do those (four) steps depends on community support and resources,” Hansen said. “These gangs are highly organized and they’ll target a community that doesn’t have a strong law enforcement presence.

“Things have died down in the last two weeks. (The gangs are) laying low because the pressure is on. The constant activity (by law enforcement) is a key. We’ve had a lot of help from the CHP and Sheriff’s Department and we’ve been able to scare them back into their holes. The sky isn’t falling, but we do need resources so we can arrest these people and get them into custody.”

Why would gangs target Redding? It’s a central location and key turf to control in the methamphetamine and marijuana drug trade. Hansen said that’s also why outlaw motorcycle gangs are interested in the area.

It’s also why Shasta County’s Marijuana Eradication Team plays such an important role in combating the problem. The Mexican drug cartels are certainly associated with the gangs.

“What’s going on in the hills around here is very important,” Hansen said. “The Mexican drug cartels are organized crime and it’s big money. These guys are armed gangster thugs. If we weren’t going after them, the public lands wouldn’t be very safe.”

While getting caught in the crossfire of a gang war is still a pretty remote possibility in Redding, Hansen said residents should have an awareness of a few factors. Gang graffiti remains a telltale sign for gang activity, as does wearing certain colors.

Parents should be aware of who their kids are hanging out with (has there been a change in behavior based on a new set of friends?). Watch out for groups using intimidating tactics in areas like parks or parking lots.

Hansen recently met with a group of Redding nightclub owners in relation to an incident where motorcycle gang members were intimidating patrons. His advice to them: Don’t let the Hell’s Angels into your bar.

In the same breath, everyone needs to be rational.

“Not everyone who rides a Harley is an outlaw gang member,” Hansen said.

Just because a certain family moved onto your block doesn’t mean it’s associated with gangs, he added.

“Historically, Redding has had an advantage because it’s somewhat isolated from the rest of California,” Hansen said. “There hasn’t been an over-reaching gang influence here, though we’ve always had gang members here. We don’t have the generational gang problems where, for instance, there are Crips and Bloods whose grandparents were members of gangs. Mostly we’ve been able to operate in a preventative mode.”

And that’s exactly where Hansen, and certainly whomever becomes the next chief, will want to keep the situation.

Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com.