Police Gang Unit offers advice in combating graffiti
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, October 2006) On Tuesday August 29th at the Hispanic Youth Center on Scranton Avenue members of the City of Cleveland Police Department’s Gang Unit addressed the issue of graffiti in the Second Police District. Sergeant Ron Ross of the gang unit explained the difference between gang graffiti and tagging. He said gang graffiti is the street’s newspaper. Gang members mark their territory with graffiti. Gang members may also write their gang nicknames on a house or fence in their territory.

When one gang writes over another gang’s graffiti, Ross said, that means there is going to be a rumble. Ross showed distinct gang symbols in gang graffiti such as crowns, pitchforks and talked about gang colors and tattoos worn by various gangs. Some of the West Side gangs he mentioned were a juvenile gang named the Black Latin Soldiers, the Latin Kings, Madison Madhouse.

Ross said of the 108 known gangs in Cuyahoga, 103 operated in the City of Cleveland. He estimated that there are 3,000 to 5,000 gang members in Cleveland. He said some of the gang members are hardcore, meaning they will do anything for their gang. Other gangs are made up of kids or are copycat gangs. To combat gang activity the City of Cleveland’s gang unit has seven members. In addition, each police district has two gang liaisons. The gang unit participates in the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Carribean Gang Task Force and with other federal efforts to crack down on gang activity.

Ross said taggers on the other hand write their symbol everywhere --- and like to see them stay up. Ross said the best way to combat taggers is to take a picture of their graffiti and then paint over it. If you see tagging going on try to get descriptive information such as a license plate number when you report it to the police. Ross said police are especially interested in catching taggers that cause damage to expensive freeway signs.

If you continue to paint over the graffiti, the taggers will loose interest and move somewhere else, said Ross. Those in attendance viewed video provided by local block club members of a group of Tremont Taggers that frequented areas around Tremont and Ohio Ctiy bars.

A representative of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization noted that the organization had used the proceeds from a $5,000 grant in 2004 to purchase chemicals and power wash graffiti on commercial properties in the neighborhood. Residents of Tremont noted that volunteers from Tremont West Development Corporation painted over graffiti in the Tremont neighborhood.

Ross urged residents that see suspected gang graffiti or gangs hanging out selling drugs, to report it to the gang unit at 623-5562. A message can be left for the Gang Unit 24 hours a day, seven days a week, says Ross. He said when leaving a message include the address so the gang unit can do a drive by or come and talk to the gang.

He urged residents feeling threatened by the presence of a gang to call 911 and to go somewhere else that is safe. When calling the 911 dispatcher he urged them to know what they have seen and to provide as many details as they can such as an address where the incident is occurring, license plate number, and description including the number of suspects and a description of their clothing or other identifying marks.

Ross said some gangs are more violent than others. Violence is particularly related to the drug trade. Ross said most drug-related gang shootings have to do with drug dealers trying to rip one another off.

Ross says the police in the gang unit and those tackling graffiti depend on community members to be the ears, eyes and voices for police.


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