Gang Presence On The Rise

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SPRING HILL –
SPRING HILL – The teenager with the red handkerchief

across his face dances for the camera, keeping time to

a beat only he can hear.

As he bobs and postures for the camera, his hands began

forming intricate signs and signals, including the word

“blood.”

The 17-second video ends with the teen pointing an

imaginary gun at the camera and squeezing off several

shots.

That’s what chills Detective Pete Ciucci.

He collected the footage during a “knock and talk” not

long ago at the teen’s Spring Hill home. A tip that the

teen was carrying a gun led him to the house and his

mother invited the detective inside.

She gave him permission to look through her son’s room.

There were no weapons, but Ciucci did find bead

necklaces, an ashtray covered in gang signs and a

closet full of mostly red and black clothes.

The detective also noticed a digital camera and asked

the teen if he could flip through the pictures. As he

did so, he came across video footage of the teen

“stacking” or flashing his hand signs.

“Can you do that for me again?” Ciucci asked as he

flipped on his own camera.

Though alarming, the video captured that night was

nothing more than a footnote in a new chapter for

Spring Hill.

SIGNS OF A NEW ERA

Historically, there have only been a few pockets of

gang members in Hernando County. They mostly kept a low

profile and were considered more of a nuisance than a

menace.

But things have changed.

The teen Ciucci recorded wasn’t arrested that night

because it’s not illegal to be a gang member. But

within a few days, he was charged with aggravated

assault for attempting to run over a rival with a car.

That is a crime.

There are other signs that the gang presence is

mounting.

Within the past month, a man was stabbed in the arm by

a rival gang member. The suspect in the guerilla knife

attack was aiming for the chest and missed.

Ciucci said a marijuana grow house busted at 4456

Chamber Court last week had ties to gang members.

Teens gathering outside bowling alleys, movie theaters

and parks are exchanging complicated handshakes. One

teen told Ciucci he wouldn’t go to Beacon Theater alone

on a Friday night for fear he would be jumped by the

rival gang.

The fights spill out into the street. Neighbors will

call and say there are packs of kids facing off at a

certain intersection that borders a territory. Deputies

will race over with lights and sirens and the

confrontation dissolves as the suspects flee and

discard baseball bats and other weapons.

They’ll claim it was just a get together, Ciucci said,

but their body language tells you differently. That and

the gang tattoos on a bare chest.

Territorial graffiti is flaring up again. On Wednesday

night, Delta Woods Park on Deltona Boulevard was the

target. Most of the letters and symbols are

incomprehensible to the uninitiated, but Ciucci knows

what it means when the Crips spray BK about their rival

gang: Blood Killer.

“This is not Compton or Miami, it’s more loosely

organized,” Ciucci said. “But we’re still pulling guns

and drugs off the streets.”

When Ciucci took the post as the gang detective for the

sheriff’s office four years ago, his job mostly

entailed giving talks to school kids about not falling

into gang activity.

Now he has 200 people at any given time on his radar

believed or known to be gang members. That doesn’t

include the friends or associates that hang out with

them.

THE GANG ROOTS

But are these real, documented gang members or just

teens up to no good?

A little bit of both. Spring Hill hosts its own gang

chapters, such as the Pinehurst Crew and 20 Deep. In

today’s Internet age, it’s easy to learn all of the

handshakes, signs, colors and philosophies of notorious

gangs such as the Crips and Bloods.

There has also been an influx of hardcore gang members

to Hernando County that are spreading their street

knowledge and bolstering ranks. One person proudly

proclaims he has been with Piru Bloods since he was

9-years-old.

“It’s alarming because they’re not trying to hide it,”

Ciucci said.

But anyone posing as a gang member has to realize that

there will come a time when they will be tested. If

confronted by a genuine rival, they can either run or

assert their membership in the gang. That’s a big step

towards becoming a documented gang member.

The National Gang Crime Research Center has been

tracking gang trends for 17 years. Its director, George

Knox, finds that crackdowns on gangs in major cities

drive the members to small counties like Hernando.

“The natural tendency is to move where they can operate

in impunity,” he said.

Lockup in a juvenile detention facility or the county

jail also exposes budding gangsters to dedicated

members. A conversation is struck up about a gang

tattoo and the rest is history, Knox said.

THE UPSIDE

It’s not all bad news.

School resource officers have made “a serious dent”

towards preventing violence in the schools and spotting

dangerous trends, Ciucci said.

Detectives in the Major Case and Vice and Narcotics

divisions openly communicate with Ciucci if they

suspect gang activity is tied to their case.

But largely it’s the information pipeline from the

street that keeps Ciucci busy. Street sources are

calling to say where a fight is brewing, who has hits

out, people to keep an eye on.

And not everyone dabbling in gangs is headed towards a

lifetime of crime. Sometimes Ciucci informally counsels

his informants and it pays off. “I just got a call from

guy who wants to give me some information,” Ciucci

said. “I asked him what he wanted in return and he said

nothing. He just started thinking about what I told

him, that he could go to prison for life and someone

else would raise his kid. That stuck in his mind.”

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