Sunday, June 24, 2018
Public safety

Police report more gang activity in Largo

LARGO — The 104th Street Bloods. The 119 Boys. The Young Souljas. Latin Kings. Crips. Y-Side. Sur 13. Nation of Thugs. Asian Pride.

These are all street gangs in Largo, where police say gang activity is increasing.

Just five years ago, the Largo Police Department documented only 30 active gang members and associates in the city. These days, police say they track about 500 of them in more than 30 gangs.

Police officials gave Largo's elected officials an eye-opening briefing last week about a recent uptick in gang violence. Investigators say gangs have been involved in recent shootings, home invasions and drug busts. There has also been a violent conflict between Largo and Clearwater gangs.

Largo commissioners were shown photos of gang symbols, tattoos, graffiti and local gang members showing guns and flashing their gangs' hand signs.

"All of these pictures were taken in Largo," said Sgt. Mike Bruno, who runs the city's problem-oriented policing unit. "All of the pictures of people holding guns, people posing — they're all Largo people."

Police described the Brittany Bay Apartments as a hub of gang activity. The 568-unit complex at 1201 Seminole Blvd. is roughly midway between Ulmerton Road and East Bay Drive.

City commissioners asked how the apartment complex could deal with the problem.

"They're not dealing with it too much at the present time," said Deputy Chief Jeffrey Undestad, the police department's second-in-command. "We're going to put a plan together and try to get the involvement of management, as we have in the past with other complexes."

Management at Brittany Bay had no comment when contacted by the Times.

Bruno said Largo typically has "hybrid gangs" instead of traditional street gangs. Hybrid gangs, he said, are often loosely organized, with little leadership. They create spin-off groups with changing names.

"Because of their lack of defined leadership, hybrid gangs can be more dangerous and more unpredictable than traditional gangs," Bruno said "There's not a leader who's keeping them in check."

Largo has both black and white gangs. Bruno showed photos of neo-Nazi tattoos reading "88" and "14." H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so 88 stands for "Heil Hitler." And 14 is a reference to the number of words in a white supremacist creed: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."

Last year, some residents around the Ridgecrest area west of Largo questioned the use of gang affiliation lists by law enforcement. Officials eventually agreed to consider changing how they compile the lists, which included people who were not gang members.

"They have to be doing some sort of criminal activity during the time that they're documented as being with someone who's a gang member," Bruno told the commissioners.

Police recounted several recent gang-related incidents, including the following:

March 21: A Largo police officer and an 8-Hype gang member exchanged gunfire. The gang member was running from a house where police tried to arrest him in connection with two Largo home invasion robberies. No one was shot, but the gang member got away and was caught the next day.

March 13: Largo police tried to stop a car that was involved in a shooting in unincorporated Pinellas County. The car sped off and hit a stop sign. Four Young Souljas tried to run away but were caught. Police found a .45-caliber Glock and crack cocaine.

November: A Clearwater 19-year-old named Gregory Williams was killed in an apparent drive-by shooting at a Largo party. Police believed it was related to a long-running dispute between gang members from Largo and Clearwater.

Commission member Harriet Crozier said she was "totally blown away" by the extent of the gang problem during a recent ride-along with police officers.

"We don't hear a lot in Largo about the gangs unless obviously you live in the particular area," she told the officers. "The people who are out and about feel very protected and very safe, because of what you are doing to keep a lid on it."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.

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