Gang activity in Chandler has been on the decline since December when a drive-by shooting left a 19-year-old woman dead, police said.
The decrease came after police addressed the community about the killing and hit the streets talking to loitering teens and looking for gang members, Chandler police Sgt. Greg Howarth told a small crowd Thursday night at a Chandler library.
However, Howarth, head of the city’s newly formed gang unit, warned that the gang members haven’t left the city and likely have been driven underground.
Those who are committing crimes in Chandler are remaining undetected; others are hanging out in neighboring cities such as Mesa, Queen Creek, Gilbert and Phoenix, he said.
Howarth attributes much of this to an increase in police presence in downtown Chandler. The teens tell officers they flee because police are “rolling deep,” Howarth said.
“We’ve suppressed the problem,” he said during an interview. “They know we’re out and know we’re active and being very aggressive and proactive. However, that in and of itself does not get rid of the problem. It just pushes it underground. So what we have do is take steps now to continue and go beyond the straight enforcement and suppression.”
The department’s gang unit has two detectives who work under Howarth. Two more detectives have been approved for the unit, and are expected to begin working by Aug. 1.
A fifth Chandler detective will work through a gang and criminal fusion center based out of the Mesa Police Department. The center will allow East Valley agencies to share information.
Chandler detectives and gang liaison officers patrol the streets talking with teens and checking if they are involved with gangs.
Members of Improving Chandler Area Neighborhoods — a Chandler-based program for youth — ride with police twice a month to meet teens who are hanging out on the street, said Christy McClendon, chief executive officer of the organization.
At the Chandler library talk, Howarth worked to dispel rumors about gangs and inform people about current trends.
Chandler currently has eight gangs with members who are Hispanic, Howarth said. Years ago the city had gangs with a mix of races, he said.
They dominate an area that runs from Ray Road to Pecos Road and from Alma School Road to McQueen Road.
Eddie Rodriguez, who has lived in Chandler for five years and is a third-grade teacher in Phoenix, said he didn’t know that Chandler had gangs but assumed the city did.
Rodriguez said he fears people will see this as a problem for the Hispanic community rather than a problem that all Chandler residents should be concerned with.
“This is a gang problem, and we have to be more proactive than reactive,” Rodriguez said. “But, I don’t think we can just say it’s a Hispanic problem.”
Targeting gangs What: Meeting on Chandler gangs When: 10 a.m. to noon July 28 Where: City Council chambers in the Chandler Public Library, 22 S. Delaware St. Information: To learn more about Improving Chandler Area Neighborhoods, call (480) 821-4207.