City comes to grips on gangs

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Many members of the Clovis Public Safety Committee knew the city had a gang problem. Few, however, knew that Clovis now has documented 438 gang members — nearly a fivefold increase over the 88 documented gang members in December 2001.
According to Sgt. Chris Kinley of the Clovis Police Department’s gang unit, police statistics also show that at least 25 percent of Clovis crimes which result in a felony arrest are committed by documented gang members.
“That means a small percentage of the population is committing 25 percent of the felony crime we are catching,” Kinley told the committee during its June 17 meeting.
Ernie Kos, chair of the committee established by the Clovis City Commission to provide recommendations on issues related to the police and fire department, said she had no idea of the magnitude of Clovis’ gang problem.
“The information that was shared about gangs was a huge eye-opener,” Kos said. “The community as a whole has a major issue they need to be educated on.”
Kos said police and civic leaders need to alert the community to the city’s gang problem and problems with police funding.
“I do think the community is faced with a very critical issue,” Kos said. “I would say that although I knew that the resources were limited, I didn’t have a full grasp of how terribly limited they really are. It’s a community-wide issue that needs to be addressed.”
In related business, police Capt. Dan Blair continued an earlier presentation on police department staffing problems.
Kinley said the Clovis Police Department’s gang unit is aggressively working to stop gang-related crime.
“Currently we have 19 documented gangs that are active to any degree and several splinter groups,” Kinley said. “In the past six months we’ve made over 250 arrests of known gang members. We have arrested some of these guys two and three times.”
While gang activity historically has centered on an area bordered by 14th Street, Grand Avenue, Main Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, Kinley said several gangs have expanded into other residential and business neighborhoods and brought crime with them.
“We also received several complaints up at the mall,” Kinley said. “We had gang members openly displaying their affiliation, and after a three-week enforcement period we had no more gang activity there, and that was one of our big success stories.”
Clovis Police Chief Bill Carey said the city does have a gang problem and his department currently receives funding from the New Mexico Gang Enforcement Task Force.
“Clovis gets some of that money every year and we certainly hope to get it in the future,” Carey said.