Criminal Street Gang Activity
United States Attorney
District of Idaho
Subject: Gang activity across the state of Idaho
Date: October 22, 2008
To: Marc Haws
First Assistant United States Attorney
From: Christian Nafzger
Special Assistant United States Attorney
Criminal Street Gang in IdahoIn order to determine the nature and extent of criminal street gang violence throughout Idaho, I have conducted limited research in two areas. First, what are the numbers of documented gang members both in the Treasure Valley and outside the Treasure Valley? Secondly, to what extent is there a present need for increased federal prosecutions outside the Treasure Valley?
I. Documented gang members by geographic area
I contacted local law enforcement from around the state, focusing on the six most populated areas outside the Treasure Valley: Bannock County, Kootenai County, Latah County, Bonneville County, Payette County and Twin Falls County.
I first spoke with Mark Daniels from the Pocatello Police Department Gang Task Force. He stated that there are 15 active gangs in the Pocatello area with 95 documented gang members. He suggested that in addition, there are approximately 200-300 gang members on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
B. Idaho Falls
Ron Stiffler, from the Idaho Falls Police Department, is one of two officers in a newly formed gang unit. He stated that there are 140 documented gang members in the Idaho Falls area, but he believes the number is closer to 200-300. The Idaho Falls gang unit sees quite a few Treasure Valley gang members and believes that most of the local gang ties are to the Treasure Valley. The majority of gang members claim membership in one of the traditionally Hispanic gangs.
C. Twin Falls
Twin Falls County does not yet have a list of documented gang members, but they formed a gang task force three months ago and hope to begin documenting gang members shortly. Staff Sergeants J.K. Wilson and Ron Fustos did complete a gang assessment in 2007. As part of the assessment, a survey was conducted of students and faculty in the junior and senior high schools in Twin Falls. Ninety percent of those surveyed believed there to be active gang members in the Twin Falls area, while forty-eight percent of those surveyed indicated that they knew gang members or have had some personal experience with gangs. The most common gang related incident that the Twin Falls Police Department deals with is graffiti vandalism. Based on the graffiti, the two largest gangs are Surreno and Norteno, common southwest Idaho gangs.
D. Payette County and Ontairo, Oregon
Detective Pat Weber, a narcotics detective and member of the High Desert Task Force, reports that Payette County and Ontario, Oregon have quite a bit of gang activity, including drive-by shootings, gun crime and drug crime. He reports 70 documented gang members, with the largest group being Surenos, a Hispanic-based gang common in Southwest Idaho. They have documented 13th Street and 18th Street groups, both subsets of the Surenos. They also have problems with "European Kindred", a white supremacist group from the Snake River Correctional Facility.
E. Latah County
Latah County does not have a gang task force or gang unit in either Moscow city or county police departments. The Latah County Sheriff’s Office and Moscow City Police both stated that they have no documentation procedure. Moscow City Police stated that they occasionally suspect some student athletes are gang members, but they are not documented.
F. Kootenai and Shoshone Counties
Sargent Hildebrant, from the Kootenai County Gang Unit reported 160 confirmed gang members within Kootenai and Shoshone Counties. Of those 160 gang members, approximately one third were thought to be members of white supremacist type organizations. The second largest group is Crips, a Californian gang known for dealing in crack cocaine.
G. Treasure Valley
Boise ATF Special Agent James Kohler, a member of the Metro Task Force in the Treasure Valley, stated that there are approximately 600 documented gang members in the Treasure Valley.
H. Idaho State Correctional Institution
Tim Higgins, the Idaho Department of Corrections Gang and Intelligence Coordinator, has documented 1,615 gang members who are currently in custody or out on probation or parole. Approximately one third of those are currently confined. The Third and Fourth Judicial Districts, which includes Canyon and Ada County, are home to the highest number of those prisoners on either probation or parole.
II. Is there currently a need for increased federal criminal prosecutions outside of the Treasure Valley?I contacted Traci Whelan from our Coeur d’Alene branch office and she suggested there is not an immediate need for increased federal prosecutions in Northern Idaho. Over the past several years, there have been very few gang related prosecutions. The level of violence associated with known gang members has not reached the elevated levels that the Treasure Valley has seen in recent years.
I also spoke with Mike Fica and Jack Haycock and they echoed Traci’s sentiments. While they have had one major gang related prosecution in the last several years (albeit, it was the motorcycle gang), they have not noticed a need for increased federal prosecutions of local gang members. Mike Fica opined that there are three or four cases per year that the defendant may have some gang affiliation, but that it is not a motivating factor in the crime. While neither branch office suggested an immediate need for a special prosecutor, local law enforcement described communities with growing gang problems.
By contrast, the Boise office has handled an increasing number of gang related defendants. Since 2005, AUSA Aaron Lucoff has successfully prosecuted and sent to prison eight gang members, three of which held leadership positions within the gang. Six of the eight defendants were from the Treasure Valley, with one residing in Twin Falls and the other on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. Since February of 2007, SAUSA Christian Nafzger has handled twenty-eight defendants that are involved with criminal street gangs. All of those cases are from the Treasure Valley.
The communities outside of the Treasure Valley appear to be about ten years behind the Treasure Valley in the escalation of gang violence. Before drive-by shootings became common place in the Treasure Valley, local law enforcement began seeing many of the same signs that these communities are just now noticing. Hopefully, by getting a head start on forming gang units and task forces, they can tackle this problem before it grows out of control. Federal prosecutions are an important tool that need to be utilized in a combined effort to rid our communities of violent street gangs. I believe that even a slight increase in the number of federal prosecutions would have a significant impact in these areas.