greeley police react to gang activity

Intervention unit tracks down major offenders

By Carissa Olszewski

Sgt. Roy Smith stands behind his desk holding handcuffs. He is of average height and his head is smooth and recently shaved. It shows off his tan skin. Tattoos are slightly visible underneath his unbuttoned polo.

Sgt. Roy Smith of the Greeley Gang Intervention Unity.
Sgt. Roy Smith of the Greeley Gang Intervention Unit. Photo by Carissa Olszewski

He talks in an authoritative manner, his voice constantly hinting at skepticism. Smith is the sergeant of the Greeley Gang Intervention Unit, meaning he is in charge of five gang detectives.
            The Greeley Gang Unit has been around since 1994. Smith says no one wanted to admit there was a gang problem, but eventually they had to call it what it was to take control of the situation.
The goal of the gang unit is not necessarily to eliminate the gang population. They are more concerned with getting violent individuals off the streets of Greeley.
            “Interdiction is the way we try to prevent gang violence. We try to get rid of the worst of the worst, for as long as possible,” Smith said.
            Smith said the members of the unit do this by putting people in prison. He said he believes that if older gang members are in prison, they are unable to recruit new gang members.
            “It is not a crime to be a gang member,” Smith said.
This is what slows the process of placing known gang members into prison. The job requires patience and persistence. Gang detectives must wait until they catch the gang members taking part in illegal activities.
An officer can become a gang detective by attending an academy and putting time in patrolling the streets. The officer can apply to be involved in either investigations or the gang unit. The gang detective will then takes classes on gang dynamics after becoming a member of the unit.
The unit works Wednesday through Saturday, as these are the times gang activity is most prevalent. But Smith is always able to be reached if needed.  Also, each gang detective is on call for one week at a time. This is important because the unit possesses all the information about gang activity.

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“The gang unit is very helpful because they have intimate knowledge of different gang people throughout the city,” said Officer Mark Forgue, who works for the Neighborhood Action Team and Crime Prevention Unit.
“They build relationships with gang members and others involved to solve cases and take care of problems,” Forgue said.
The daily work of the gang detectives keeps them focused on their duties. During the early potion of their shift, they must complete their casework in the office. This is when they file paperwork and look over their upcoming assignments. They research individuals they find suspicious.
Later in the evening, they patrol the streets. They are given free range to roam Greeley. They look for suspicious activity in neighborhoods familiar to them. A gang detective will usually take a call if a weapon is involved. These are the hot calls generally associated with gang violence.
“It is the best of both worlds. We work in the office and outside. We do not have to wear suits and ties. We like gangsters. Also, we have the whole city to patrol,” Smith said. 
Smith said there are two main gangs in Greeley, the Norteños (Northerners) and the Sureños (Southerners). Norteños are identified by red attire and the number 14, while Sureños dress in blue and associate themselves with the number 13.
Smith said most of the violence that occurs is gang-on-gang violence. This means opposing gang members get into fights or members within the same gang fight each other.
            David Musick is a UNC professor in sociology and an expert on juvenile delinquency. He says it is important to understand the reasons young people join gangs.
            “In the simplest sense, gangs provide income for their members. Gangs offer exciting and pleasurable activities for their members. For young people experiencing rejection at home, at school and elsewhere in the community, such offerings are too attractive to pass up,” Musick said.
            Musick said this means prosecuting and incarcerating gang members will not get rid of gangs; this is not attacking the root of the problem.
            “The gang problem is far greater than police resources,” Musick said.
            This is mostly because gangs have become such a big part of the community. The Greeley police force understand this concept.
            “Gangs are a fabric of our community. They are virtually impossible to get rid of,” Smith said.

The Gang Problem

  • 20,000 violent street, motorcycle and prison gangs
  • 1 million members active in the United States
  • Colorado has average 5-7 gang members per 1,000 people
  • Greeley has between 500-2,499 gang members

Source: National Gang Intelligence Center.