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HIGH LIFE : 100 Street Gangs With 7,000 Members Operate in County

September 08, 1989

There are 100 known street gangs in Orange County, with recorded members totaling more than 7,000. Although they are predominantly in Santa Ana, Westminster and Garden Grove, gangs also exist in Fullerton, La Habra and Placentia, and as far south as San Juan Capistrano.

Each operates from a different power base. For example, Latino gangs' power base is territory, its expansion or protection. Asian gangs are profit-oriented; their crimes are theft, robbery, larceny, extortion and car theft. They operate in business districts and major shopping centers. Profit is also the motive for black gangs.

This is not to say that the county's gangs have an ethnic bias. "Orange County is an equal opportunity employer" when it comes to gangs, says Tom Wright, supervisor of the Gang Suppression Unit of the Orange County Probation Department. "Almost every gang is multi-ethnic, whites in black gangs, Asians in Latino gangs."

Wright adds a new development in so-called "mutant" (a term Wright himself coined) or "hybrid" groups. These new gangs are "career crooks," Wright says, profit-oriented and very aggressive or violent, with some members only 14 years old, younger than those in traditional gangs. A typical Latino gang, for example, has members from ages 17 to 22.

Mutant gangs seem to be a spontaneous spinoff, taking the best of the more established gangs--such as the colors from the black gangs (red and blue rags) and the idea of territory from the Latino gangs. "They are going very much against the grain of gang culture," Wright says, and their methods have provoked confrontations with the established gangs.

"Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names."

--John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

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