By: Spencer Kope, WCSO Crime Analyst
Gangs. They’ve been a part of Whatcom County for decades; a part of the United States for centuries. Many county residents are familiar with the Bandidos, an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG) with thousands of members worldwide, whose National President and International Presidents have called Whatcom County home. Until recently, however, residents were less familiar with the more troublesome gangs─the street gangs.
With names like the South Side Whittier Tokers, 18th Street, La Raza Playboys, West Side Piru, and Brown Pride Sureno, these gangs are responsible for most of the graffiti seen in the county, as well as a significant amount of crime, including violent crime.
Many in county law enforcement initially viewed these early gang members as “busters”─a gang term for kids who identify themselves as gang members, use gang monikers, wear gang clothing, and flash gang signs, but who lack the “street credit” of the hardcore gang members in the big cities.
This view began to change as local gang members became increasingly active in drug dealing, assaults, robberies, burglaries─even rape and murder. The dynamics of the area also began to change as hardened gang members, primarily from California, but also from Chicago, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Mexico, moved to the county and either established gangs or joined existing gangs.
Today, there are at least thirty-eight active gangs in the county accounting for more than 400 members. These include the Bandidos, street gangs like the Bloods, Crips, and Surenos, and the more loosely defined gangs like the Juggalos and the various white supremacist groups.
Recognizing a gang member based on appearance alone can be problematic. One of the biggest giveaways is gang-related tattoos. Locally, these might include the number “13” and the word “Sur” or “Sureno,” which are identifiers for Hispanic gang members associated with the Sureno gang movement. Surenos account for at least ten local gangs and more than 200 gang members.
Recognizing gang graffiti is relatively easy. The same identifiers for Surenos apply, though the “13” might be written as “XIII” or “X3”. Other gang tags include the “18” or “XVIII” of the Sureno gang, 18th Street; anything with “Piru” indicates a Blood gang; references to South Side, West Side, East Side, or an area code like 360 are also gang identifiers. As a rule, any graffiti with a number in it is likely gang related.