A year ago, the city of Galt had 128 validated gang members. Now, that number is at 147.
And in the past three weeks, the city has seen two drive-by shootings and three stabbings, all gang-related.
Though police had long planned to hold a community meeting Thursday night to discuss gangs, the timing couldn't have been more appropriate. Lodi has also seen a number of gang-related crimes, and such incidents, in turn, cause long-term damage, Galt police told the community.
"The real cost is in the break down of our society. Say you live on a street that just had a drive by shooting. Are you going to have a barbecue out front? No," said Detective Bruce Ramos, who focuses much of his time on gang problems in Galt. "We're social creatures, but when things like this happen it makes us become isolated and withdrawn."
More than 100 citizens attended the public forum Thursday, held on the Galt High School campus. They saw pieces of gang attire — such as red belts and blue hats with gang slogans written on them — and got a lesson in gang history.
Most of Galt's active gang members are around the age of 19 or 20, but they also range from age 13 to early 30s, Ramos said. While some stick to themselves, many cause countless troubles.
"Gang crimes are not just the driveby or the stabbing. In most cities, 50 or 60 percent of their crime can be traced back to gang activity — your auto burglaries, residential burgs, can be traced to gangs. That's why we're trying to educate you," Crime Prevention Officer TJ Guidotti told the crowd.
In Galt, the problem groups are Hispanic gangs, Ramos said. They've been around for years and spun off gangs that formed decades ago in the California prison system.
The first gang, the Mexican Mafia, started in the mid-1950s at Duel Vocational Institute in Tracy. Gang members had a rift, and a group split off a decade later, forming Nuestra Familia.
By the 1970s, gang fights were causing major problems in prisons, so corrections officials tried to separate them between north and south, with Bakersfield being the dividing line.
Gangs, in turn, adopted those lines. Those in the north were called Nortenos. Those in the south took the name of Surenos.
In each town, small groups formed. Galt, for instance, has been home to the Varrio Ghost Town clique of Nortenos, using the abbreviation of VGT, since the 1980s, Ramos said. Ten years ago, Surenos also began to set up shop in Galt, calling themselves Varrio Krooks Town, or VKT.
Along the way, more groups have formed, each with various acronyms. Varrio Thornton Surenos, or VTS, appeared near Galt.
Lodi gangs also cross city lines, including PlayBoy Surenos and South Central Lodi Nortenos.
Now, Galt gang members have turned up in places ranging from Yakima, Wash., to Omaha, Neb., Ramos said.
The best way to combat gang crimes is to prevent youths from joining, Ramos and Guidotti told the crowd. Parents need to watch their children, pay attention to their friends and be involved in their lives.
When gang crimes do happen, they asked the public to report incidents to police, and to get detailed descriptions of the suspects. To reach police, call 366-7000. To make an anonymous call to Crime Stoppers in Galt, call (888) 393-8477.
Ramos showed photos of gang graffiti, and noted that it can take 30 seconds for someone to pull out a can of paint and spray gang initials across a fence. By the time police arrive, the culprits have fled.
He estimated that the city and school district now spend a combined total of $150,000 a year repairing damage caused by gang vandalism.
"That's a lot of money, and it would be nice to use that for computers and books and street lights," Ramos said.