Pubdate: Sat, 08 May 2004
Source: Fort Pierce Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2004 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Derek Simmonsen


Fort Pierce Police Have a New Full-Time Intelligence Analyst to Compile a 
Monthly List of "Hot Spots" -- Areas Where Gang Activity Has Been a Problem 
- -- for Police to Check On.

FORT PIERCE -- The ongoing war against street gangs could be won by a 
person behind a desk.

Fort Pierce police have a new full-time intelligence analyst who compiles 
information on gangs around the county and makes the information available 
to officers on the street.

That's good news to the department's Gang Task Force, a collection of 
officers and detectives who periodically sweep the city targeting gangs and 
drugs. All too often, the two are inseparable, said Lt. Frank Amandro, who 
runs the task force.

"Our gang problem is so interwoven with narcotics and street crimes," 
Amandro said on a recent Saturday night. "Most of our gangs are tied to 
narcotic sales."

The new position, which began in October, is coming at a time when several 
recent violent incidents have been linked to gang activity.

An April 15 shooting that wounded a 13-year-old girl was sparked by the 
refusal of two men to join the 13th Street Gang, according to police. The 
Feb. 12 shooting death of Ilerant Utilien was reportedly part of an 
initiation into that same gang.

On a recent Saturday night, Amandro drove around the city in a patrol car, 
while members of the task force moved in unmarked cars. They drove through 
neighborhood hangouts where gang members like to go, stopped by areas where 
drug sales are often in the open and kept an eye out for trouble.

The analyst is able to compile a monthly list of "hot spots" -- areas where 
gang activity has been a problem -- for police to check on. In the past, 
officers were often behind the times when it came to the city's gangs, 
Amandro said.

"We were more reactive than proactive," he said.

Early that evening, detectives stopped by a house on Avenue G that had been 
a problem spot for drugs, Amandro said.

Detectives James Babcock and Eric Pierre-Jerome, members of the task force, 
are familiar faces in the area.

Acting on a tip, they begin searching palm trees beside a house, looking 
for bags of marijuana or small cigar or glue tubes traditionally used to 
hold crack cocaine.

"Babcock, y'all stop that man," said one resident, watching Babcock search 
the trees. "Y'all look like a bunch of fools."

Drug dealers often hide their stash and officers arrive trying to find it, 
like an elaborate game of hide and seek.

"We only get a small percentage of what's out there," Amandro said.


It is estimated that about 30 gangs with hundreds of members call St. Lucie 
County home. Linking someone to a gang isn't a simple process, though, 
Amandro said.

State law requires police to establish firmly, through several incidents, 
that a person is an active part of a gang. One of the jobs of the 
intelligence analyst is helping to make that case by keeping careful record 
of who does what, he said.

"The state statute is very specific on when we can label someone a gang 
member," Amandro said. "We're trying to keep within the statute."

When a major crime, such as a shooting, happens, police have a database of 
information to pull from. If the suspect is a known gang member, police 
will likely have a list of his friends, family, vehicles and favorite hangouts.

Eventually, officers on the street will be able to access the gang database 
from laptop computers.

Driving through the city, Amandro is quick to point out graffiti and other 
markings that show specific gang territories. The marks can be like a 
bulletin board -- even giving clues to feuds, such as ongoing disputes 
between the 13th Street and 29th Street Gangs.

Some of the gangs are tied to state and national groups, such as the 
Miami-based gangs Zoe Pound and Vatos Locos. The death of Kenneth Augusta 
Mills Jr. on Nov. 15 last year was linked to Jackson Vernelus, 24, who 
police said was a member of the Zoe Pound gang.

Meanwhile, the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office continues to collect 
information on gangs through its school resource deputies. They also offer 
drug resistance programs, like DARE and GREAT, which specifically deal with 

"You want to get them before eighth grade," said Sheriff Ken Mascara. "The 
message for both of those is to keep yourself away from drugs, keep 
yourself away from gangs."

Educating parents can be just as important as reaching kids.

The Rev. Robert Coleman, pastor of Goodwill Presbyterian Church in Fort 
Pierce, recently hosted a version of the sheriff's office GREAT program 
aimed at families.

"That very first night, we realized there is a lack of communication 
between parents and kids to a great extent," Coleman said. "As the program 
progressed along, we got the parents and kids talking together, especially 
about gangs."

As many of the city's gang members are in their teens, reaching future 
generations is an important task, police said. If children aren't occupied 
or supervised, the temptations of gang life could be calling.

"Kids typically fill that void with something," Amandro said.


* Poor progress or achievement in school * Truancy * Lack of hobbies or too 
much leisure time * Drawing gang insignias/symbols * Problems at home


* Know your children's friends * Become involved with them and occupy their 
time * Be very suspicious of gang writing, graffiti, or tattoos * Learn 
about gangs and drugs * Participate in your child's education -- find out 
what's happening at school * Set the example for your kids -- they will do 
what you do * Believe in your young person

SOURCE: Gang and Security Threat Group Awareness, The Florida Department of 
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