FARGO, ND (Valley News Live) We don't hear much about it but we do know that there's gang activity in the Valley. Authorities say they are actively tracking around 425 gang members or violent criminals, and yesterday they announced the arrests of 79. A third of those arrested were confirmed gang members.
"They're a part of our community. If they're here to commit crime, we don't want them a part of our community," Lieutenant Shannon Ruziska of the Fargo Police Department said. Lt. Ruziska is the Commander of the Metro Area Street Crimes Unit and Intelligence Unit and helped plan the sting - known as Operation Deja Vu - that led to the arrest of the 79 criminals.
The sting was done in conjunction with the U.S. Marshal Service, and though it focused on the month of November, the two organizations work year round to identify and combat gang members and activity.
Lt. Ruziska explained that with no home-grown gangs or mafias in the Valley, members from other gangs are drawn here. "We get gang members from outside coming in here to sell drugs, have prostitution, and do other gang related crimes here."
There are 47 known gangs represented in Cass and Clay Counties, meaning the gang is represented by one member or multiple. None of the gangs are considered established, instead members from other states come to the area to either escape gang life or to continue their criminal activities in our communities.
And there are signs that residents can look for that could indicate gang presence.
"If you see people putting up graffiti which looks like it might be gang related, let us know," Lt. Ruziska said. He explained that gangs often use five or six pointed stars or crowns, tridents pointing up or down, and numbers in their graffiti. The numbers act like a code, with each letter being represented by a number. When officers from the Street Crimes Unit investigate graffiti, figuring out what letters are represented by marked numbers can help them identify which gang the graffiti artist belonged to.
Markings on the individual can help as well. Lt. Ruziska said, "if they have all the tattoos which tie them to a certain gang, we're going to ask questions. Well what about this gang? Are you a part of it?"
While clothing is often associated with gang member representation, Lt. Ruziska said that even though many gang members wear sports gear like jerseys, so do many non-gang related community members. So clothing often isn't the best give away.
What is the best give away? Lt. Ruziska says often gang members will identify themselves. "This is a part of their identity unfortunately and this is how they've grown up in some cases. So they're not necessarily shy about telling you this is who I am."
According to Lt. Ruziska, "criminal street gangs are becoming less organized statewide," instead small groups will identify themselves as a branch of a gang by creating their own hand symbols or markings. Bike gangs, however, are still very organized and are still the largest and longest present gangs represented in North Dakota.
Whether bike gang or street gang, Lt. Ruziska says if you see something or someone that may be related to gang activity, call the Metro Area Street Crimes Unit. It's better to be safe than afraid. "We'll come check it out so we can make your neighborhood safer."