Gang recruiting: 'A lot of it is happening in elementary schools'

Gang recruiting: 'A lot of it is happening in elementary schools'
Gang tags on a garage in Eugene, Oregon.

EUGENE, Ore. – Local gangs are a growing problem in Lane County.

“The gangs around here are more focused throughout the community," said Greg Harvey, the Eugene Police Department's gang detective.

Harvey said he’s identified over 50 gang sets in Eugene.

“You might have one gang member living in west Eugene, one gang member in east Eugene, one gang member living in south Eugene, and one gang member living in north Eugene,” he said.

Harvey said who the gangs are targeting as new recruits concerns him.

"We’ve talked to higher-ups that say if you’ve missed them by the time they turn 8 years old, you’ve lost them,” he said. “A lot of it is happening in the elementary school level.”

Harvey said gangs look for troubled youth.

“They’re trying to get them, to groom them and get their loyalty," he said.

Gangs entice young kids with friendship, recognition and promises of a wealthier life, like they see on TV or online.

“There’s not a school in Eugene or Springfield that doesn’t have some gang activity,” Harvey said.

Harvey lists the more well-known gangs off the top of his head: South Side Playboys Sereno Trece, West Side Gangsters, East Side White Pride, West Side Piru, River Road Gangster Bloods and Barger Street Locos.

By the time the young members hit the preteens, older members start teaching them how to fight and steal.

When they are mid-teens, they are selling drugs.

By the time they are 18, most have been arrested and served time behind bars.

Harvey said Chino Sotello, a South Side Playboy, joined when he was around 12.

The detective said the gang member was recently the trigger-man in a drive-by shooting.

Harvey said the most difficult part of his job is wondering what impacts he could have made before kids decide to join a gang.

“Who knows if he would have ever been a gang member. Who knows if he would've ever sold drugs.  Who knows if he would’ve ever tried to kill somebody,” he said. “Right now, he’s sitting in prison.”

Harvey said gangs will never go away. For parents, he suggests being involved in your child’s life: know who your child is hanging out with.

“Gangs will be here," Harvey said. "It’s just trying to get as many out as we can.”