Roseville/Placer News

Roseville has worked to reduce gang presence

Sammy Duran, the tattooed gangster charged this week with seven counts of attempted murder, represents a part of Roseville life that few visitors ever see and that city officials have worked for years to eliminate.

Just miles from the polished commercial corridors most people associate with the suburban city are two neighborhoods – separated by the train yard – that were once so infested with gangs that a team of officers made it their full-time mission to arrest, confront and push high-level gangsters out of Roseville.

“Roseville gangs have been around for generations. We have worked very hard to suppress them,” said Dee Dee Gunther, a spokeswoman for the Roseville Police Department.

She said that while the number of gang members is down, there is still a gang presence. “We can’t eradicate people. We can address criminal activity,” she said.

Duran allegedly shot two law enforcement officers and injured four others in a shootout Oct. 25 after authorities sought to take him into custody. With the case in the hands of the Placer County District Attorney’s Office, the department is tight-lipped about Duran’s alleged gang involvement.

But court records and earlier statements make clear that authorities believe Samuel Nathan Duran, 32, who also uses the nickname “Snapps,” is a validated member of a criminal street gang. On July 19, he became a wanted felon after he tested positive for methamphetamine. But his parole office was unable to find him. That warrant notes that Duran’s gang affiliation is emblazoned on his stomach in a tattoo reading: “Roseville Tinylocos.”

Starting in 2006, the Roseville Police Department’s Crime Suppression Unit began a concerted effort to reduce the gang presence in the city.

Fueled by spotty enforcement, the gangs had grown bold in the Roseville Heights and Thieles neighborhoods, according to a 2010 report outlining the problem and lauding the effort to combat them. Gang members intimidated residents walking sidewalks, at area parks or driving home, officials said.

The report put the number of gang members living in Roseville at 300 in 2006. Gunther declined to offer a current estimate for this story.

The crime-suppression unit started by identifying the problem areas, concentrating officers in those areas and then targeting individual gang leaders.

The strong police presence brought more arrests. Then, when gang leaders got out of jail, officers would be there to meet them. When they moved to another Roseville address, the gang unit continued its aggressive enforcement, busting them for wearing their gang colors or hanging out with other known gang members. Many eventually decided to leave town.

“The goal was to create a deterrent effect on the lower-level gang members by being aggressive in enforcement when it came to the higher-level gang members,” the 2010 report says. “By removing the higher-level gang members from the equation, the hope was that the lower-level gang members, many of whom were borderline active gang members to begin with, would slowly melt away without the need for police intervention.”

By 2010, the tide had turned, the report says. Two of the four gangs had disappeared and the need for gang arrests and contacts had dropped.

In a letter confiscated by the police, one high-level Norteño gang member noted the police progress.

“The Westa (West Roseville) has fell apart! The (Roseville Police Department) has swept up the blocks like you wouldn’t understand. It is going to be a cold winter,” the gang member was quoted in the 2010 report. In another letter he writes: “We have been blackballed from our own homefield.”

Besides the police enforcement program, other efforts were launched as well, including the founding of a branch of Lord’s Gym, which uses sports to steer kids away from trouble. The gym targets at-risk kids from single-parent families in hopes of keeping them from joining a gang, said Doug Bird, the founder and pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship.

“We did have some gang issues,” said Bird. “We decided, let’s make a difference.”

Part of the strategy was and is to use former gang members to warn young people about the road they’re heading down.

Things have improved greatly, said Clancy Bird, son of the gym’s founder and manager of Roseville’s Lord’s Gym.

“It’s not as bad as it used to be,” Bird said. “Roseville was definitely a rougher area.”

But without positive influences and a sense of belonging, young people can still be seduced by the surrogate family that gangs provide, the younger Bird said. The gym has a boxing program, operates a basketball league and has a hip-hop dance class. Some kids pay $5 per month, others come for free.

The Roseville Police Activities League is another tool used by the city to steer kids away from trouble.

The center, at 110 Corporation Yard Road, offers kids and young adults an array of physical activities, tutoring, counseling and, perhaps most importantly, an engaged but firm voice in their lives. On Halloween, attendance was down, but the lure of free candy elsewhere didn’t keep more than a dozen young people from showing up at the center to participate in Thursday’s mixed martial arts or boxing training. Some kids start coming on their own, others come as court-ordered community service.

Roseville Police Lt. Merv Screeton, who runs the program, said some of those ordered to attend quickly lose track of their court-mandated hours and just keep showing up. Some even come back as instructors.

He points out one young man with an ankle monitor above his Chuck Taylor hightops. The kid started as a foul-mouthed objector to his forced involvement, Screeton said.

These days he wears a smile and has only a vague idea of how many more hours he’s required to be there. Another young woman, long since past her 10 required hours, now talks about getting fit and sports pink boxing gloves.

Screeton’s current prized student is a young man who came to them on felony probation. Now he’s encouraging classmates to show respect to the vice principal, Screeton said. Thursday he introduced himself with a firm handshake before heading off to work. He wants to join the military upon graduation.

“That kid was in a gang,” Screeton said.

“It’s a lot easier to keep someone out of a gang than to get them out of it,” Screeton said. “I think we’ve done a lot for prevention.”

Of the 121 referred to the program during the last school year, only six reoffended Screeton said.

Doug Bird said he knew the Duran family, but didn’t have any contract with Sammy Duran. He said he wonders whether he could have made a difference in his life.

“Man, I want to step up my effort so we don’t see that again,” Doug Bird said.