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Aug 21, 2013 11:16 PM by Tony Spehar - tspehar@koaa.com

Gang activity in Colorado Springs very different from other cities

Recent violence believed by witnesses to be attributed to gang versus gang conflict is not normal according to Colorado Springs Police who detailed to News 5 the current situation involving gangs in the area.

On July 21 a shooting originating on Winnepeg Drive left two people injured, just two days later another shooting incident took place on the street and the next day another victim was wounded in yet another shooting in the area. Witnesses reported to police that the shootings were gang related.

Sgt. Josh Benner with the Colorado Springs Police Department's Community Impact Team, which focuses on violent crimes involving gang members, told News 5 that while it isn't uncommon for someone with gang ties to be involved in a violent crime it is very rare for gangs to engage in violent conflicts between each other in our area. His team works to gather information on gang activity in the area to help coordinate between different units in the police department as well as outside law enforcement authorities.

"We have a little over a thousand confirmed gang members," Sgt. Benner said of the current level of gang activity. "Historically in other cities we do have that (gang on gang violence) and we can see that and we can see that this block is owned by this gang and if you cross over in that gang you're going to have some sort of trouble, however in Colorado Springs we actually have apartment complexes that have rival gangs living in the same place."

According to Sgt. Benner Colorado Springs gangs are unique in that there are few gangs that originated in the city, they are not territorial, they do not necessarily claim ownership of certain neighborhoods and rival gangs will often do business with one another. Oftentimes if a gang member commits an act of violence or other crimes Benner said it has little to do with their affiliation.

"From shoplifting all the way up to assaults or homicides," he said of crimes involving gang members. "But we don't see...a homicide because a furtherance of the gang, it's usually over some other determination."

Drug trafficking is the crime that can be most tied to true gang activity, were members work together to plan and pull off operations rather than working independently. It's one of the reasons Lila Ray started a neighborhood watch program in her neighborhood off of B Street.

"There were gangs walking around and stuff," Ray explained. "One day I just got tired of it and God told me start a neighborhood watch."

Like many other watch groups Ray and her neighbors educated themselves on the warning signs of gang activity such as style of dress, graffiti symbols, slang and other indicators. Often groups like Ray's can go through courses about gangs provided by law enforcement, Sgt. Benner's Community Impact Team offers such courses to watch groups or apartment complexes.

"When they see that you're standing up and saying no more, either they're going to get tired of it and go somewhere else or change their life," Ray described.

Community outreach and neighborhood watch programs are some of the best ways to combat gangs according to Sgt. Benner. He said groups like the Boys and Girls Club or faith based initiatives are on the front-lines in that effort in Colorado Springs.

"The more you impact them (gang members) and the more you try to show them there's a different way of life you get a little more open reaction to that," Benner explained.

Coming up with statistics on gang activity is difficult according to Sgt. Benner. There is no estimate on how many individual gangs there are in the city. The number of gang related crimes fluctuates wildly as gangs move around or members decide to be less public with their affiliation. Though gang crime is down this year it is hard to say if that is part of a trend or just another fluctuation.

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