Officials say gangs are recruiting members in rural town

Wednesday, August 18th 2004, 2:47 pm
By: News On 6

GUYMON, Okla. (AP) _ A growing community in the Oklahoma Panhandle has become a destination for gang recruiters, according to local law enforcement.

Rival gangs are recruiting young prospects in Guymon, hitting on the rural community at an unprecedented rate, said Guymon Police Detective Daniel Frantz.

Frantz said the area has had an ``influx of people from L.A.,'' and people of two opposing Hispanic gangs have started recruiting Hispanics and non-Hispanics.

The area has also seen its crime rate increase, often an early indicator of increasing gang activity.

Home and car burglaries have doubled in the past two months to about 30 to 40 a month. Frantz suspects 80 percent of those are gang-related.

However, the community has seen an increase in crime overall since April, so it's hard to conclusively link that to gang activity, Frantz said.

Graffiti in local parks, car vandalism and assaults also have increased.

In the past month, prosecutors have filed felony and misdemeanor charges on 12 juveniles thought to be gang members, Assistant District Attorney Megan Kennedy said.

Charges include assaulting a police officer and carrying a concealed weapon. The district attorney has at least another dozen juvenile cases, thought to be gang-related, pending, Kennedy said. Law enforcement officers seized knives and bats used for weapons at the end of June, Frantz said.

Guymon, which is home to several large corporate hog farms, saw its population increase from 8,000 in 1990 to more than 10,000 a decade later.

Guymon's proximity to Colorado, Texas, Kansas and U.S. 54, a major drug trafficking route, have made the community an attractive place for gang members.

This is one of the few times Hispanics gangs have recruited in Oklahoma, said Bob Peak, Oklahoma Gang Investigators' Association, board member.

``Latino gangs don't tend to cross state lines,'' he said.

When a gang does get started in a city, a recruiter can enlist 40 gang members in as few as 90 days, and then the gang can continue to grow, Peak said.

Texas County law enforcement agencies have joined forces to combat growing gang activity in the Panhandle and have had some success.

The team formed by the Texas County District Attorney's Task Force and police departments in the county sends out about six officers per shift, wearing civilian clothes and driving unmarked cars.

Frantz said law enforcement agencies will continue to work with school officials to stem gang violence and development.

The school already enforces zero-tolerance policies for wearing gang colors and flashing signs, Superintendent Bob Neel said.