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
The 17-second video ends with the teen pointing an
imaginary gun at the camera and squeezing off several
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
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
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
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
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
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
“It’s alarming because they’re not trying to hide it,”
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.
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.”