"It's hard to say how many gangs are here," CPD officer Amanda Pettepher said. "There are so many hybrid gangs and they come and go."
While driving through areas where gangs have left signs claiming their territory, Pettepher noted no new indications of a gang presence, eluding to the possibility that members could have either moved, are laying low with little activity or the gang has dissolved. Other reasons, however unclear, are possibilities as well.
Identifying gang members can be just as complicated as determining if and where activity occurs. Pettepher said pop culture and the media have created the "thug" image of a gang member, which isn't necessarily true.
"They're very intelligent," Pettepher said. "Gangs are multibillion dollar industries in the arms trade, prostitution and drugs.
"Sometimes we don't know they exist," she said. "They will hide from cops, so everyone else knows they're here but the police do not.
"They're getting away from tattoos because that shows who they are. But, gang members know each other and they all know who rival gangs are."
By definition, a gang is three or more people who engage in criminal activity and the members have similar dress, mannerisms and a collective name. To express their presence in an area, gangs leave their marks in different and often unusual ways.
"A pair of shoes on a power line can be gang-related," Pettepher said, pointing out a pair of red sneakers with a red bandana hanging above the entrance of Middlebrook subdivision on Cassville Road in October.
"Graffiti is a type of tagging," Pettepher said, explaining that "tagging" is the term used when gangs mark their territory. "Gang graffiti isn't the artistic, pretty stuff you see on train cars. It's usually simple, plain and one color."
Colors, letters, numbers and hand signals themselves are symbolic, but it is undetermined exactly how and what each color means as it is specific to that group and has individual meaning to them. Due to this, colors are never mixed in dress or tagging.
For example, Pettepher described two known gangs in 1970s California: The Bloods and The Crips.
"Bloods use red and Crips use blue," Pettepher said.
According to Robert Walker, a retired official who served in various federal agencies and shares his knowledge through the website "Gangs OR US" at www.gangsorus.com, the Crips and Bloods gangs originated in the Los Angeles area of California in the late 1960s and early 1970s and were first reported at LA area high schools. As time passed, the gangs grew and branched out into other areas.
The rivalry between the two California gangs extends into hybrids identifying with the main gang across the country, including Bounty Hunter Bloods, which saw members sentenced Jan. 9 in federal court in Norfolk, Va., to life in prison for the murders of two men during a home invasion robbery.
Pettepher also explained that while the Bloods and Crips are two of the largest gangs, there are groups that have migrated from Mexico.
"Sur 13 and Nortaños are common Hispanic gangs from southern or northern California," Pettepher said. "A major misconception about Hispanic gangs is they migrated into California and already had gangs established."
Locally, Sur XIII has been spotted on bridges and stop signs. However, in some areas, these tags have been painted over.
"Painting over it is a good thing," Pettepher said. "It says, 'No, you can't be here.'"
Still, the war between gangs and local residents continues. Once something is cleaned up or painted over, gang members sometimes return and retaliate with fresh tags.
"Retaliatory actions, if their places are tagged over, can be drive-by shootings or beatings," Pettepher said.
While gangs are maintaining low profiles in the Bartow area, Pettepher and her fellow officers continue to investigate possible activity and attend training seminars to lean more about gangs and their mentalities to keep the streets safe.