Gangs of Eugene: Watch KVAL 13 TV News and KVAL.com at 6 and 11 this Tuesday and Wednesday for an in-depth look at the rise of street gang culture in Eugene-Springfield.
EUGENE, Ore. - Graffiti scribbled on walls, fences and signs around town mark a silent chatter largely unintelligible to Eugene and Springfield residents - unless they are members of criminal street gangs.
In a town not often linked to gangs, police identified nearly 200 new gang members just this year, foot soldiers with links to more than 140 gangs natonwide.
"This is jaw dropping information, especially if you've grown up in Eugene," Sgt. Scott McKee said.
Police say the 1,000 gang members in the Eugene-Springfield area are increasingly violent, committing crimes like robbery and attempted murder - and recruiting children from in front of schools at ages as young as 11.
"Adult gang members are interacting with kids at elementary school level," McKee said, "teaching kids how to steal, how to emulate gang members."
"You've got to get them young," said "Two Pack," a former gang member.
Some people might hold stereortypes about what a gang member looks like, but police say local gangs aren't defined by age, race or neighborhood - and have ties to gangs in 38 states nationwide.
Some are affiliated with larger more notorious gangs, especially in Portland, a city with 85 major gang related crimes this year, including six murders.
And for many gang members, it's a way of life that can last for years - or generations.
"A lot of gang members that were arrested and put away in the 90s are getting out," Sgt. Don Livingston with the Portland Police Department said.