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Thursday, May 7, 1998

Meeting seeks to head off new gang threats

Staff Writer
Gangs in smaller communities are becoming a problem statewide and a group of concerned parents in Pecos want to address it before it grows.

Community members and interested individuals are urged to attend a meeting at 7 p.m., Friday to address the growing problem of gangs. The meeting is scheduled to be held at the Reeves County Sheriff's Office, but will be moved to the district courtroom at the Reeves County Courthouse if a large crowd is on hand for the meeting.

The meeting will be held two days after Texas Attorney General Dan Morales released a report saying that while criminal gangs are growing and moving into smaller cities and towns, many law enforcement agencies don't rate gangs as their biggest problems.

The attorney general Wednesday released a report on gang membership and activity in Texas last year. Compared to the same report issued in 1995, gangs in the state's largest cities have grown larger, more violent and more organized.

Thirteen of 15 law enforcement agencies in larger areas identified gangs as major problems.

But about 38 percent of all police agencies that responded to a survey from Morales' office said gangs are ``not much of a problem.'' Only 1 percent of the survey respondents called gangs ``one of the most serious law enforcement problems we face.''

Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney agreed that gang problems are not atop the local list for now.

"I don't know that it's a big problem right now, but it's definitely something that needs to be addressed," said McKinney, who added he had been contacted by Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez about Friday's meeting and said his office will do anything they can to help.

"This is something we're working on, I don't think it's a big problem yet, but we've already taken steps to take care of it," said Gomez.

The sheriff said a juvenile officer has been named who, with the help of other agencies, will address the problem.

"I think Hilda (Woods) will do an excellent job and she's very eager to help with the problem," said Gomez. "We see a problem and we'll act on it, before it really gets out of hand."

Gomez stated that other agencies, such as the district attorney's office, Pecos Police and the Reeves County Juvenile Probation office, have been invited to attend the meeting.

"We've heard of some gangs, mostly female gangs," said Gomez. "Of course, these are just rumors now, but we want to take care of this problem," he said.

The rumors Gomez was talking about was one gang, which is mostly females. According to the rules in this gang, youngsters who want to become a part of the gang need to go through an initiation routine, in which they are beaten up by other gang members.

"Then they're afraid of speaking up for fear of getting beat up again in retaliation," said Gomez.

"Like I said, we don't see it as a big problem yet, but it could become one, if it's not looked into," he said.

One parent who wished to remain anonymous stated that she had spoken to several youngsters and was told that they really don't want to belong to the gang, but were coerced into it.

"They told me, `we don't want to be in it, but they're forcing us to, bullying us at school and at other events,'" she said.

Morales' report said that, according to police agencies in six of the state's largest cities, there were 1,540 known gangs with 47,000 members last year.

Across the state, police agencies reported 3,200 gangs in cities and 1,600 gangs in counties with about 105,000 members. Prosecutors reported 6,000 gangs with some 38,000 members, but Morales said there could be overlapped reporting.

The report also showed that women represent 13 percent of all gang members.

Morales said police agencies also reported progress in their fights against gangs. He said community policing, gang graffiti cleanup and targeting gang leadership is working.

``There is hope that the law enforcement community is making positive inroads with such strategies as community policing and graffiti removal,'' Morales said. ``In fact, some communities report that the gang problem is not as bad as it used to be.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Carrasco handles city's `hazardous work'

Staff Writer
You have to be part detective to work Emma Carrasco's job.

As code enforcement officer for the City of Pecos, Carrasco often has to track down property owners by phone, mail or foot to keep the health and safety of local citizens secure.

High weeds, structural hazards, abandoned vehicles and garage sale signs are just some of the violations that fall into her territory.

High weeds may not look like much to a home owner, but one such case of overgrowth she had sought to have cleaned up resulted in a recent grass fire, Carrasco said.

Heavy weed growth also lends a safe haven for rodents and insects -- not to mention concealing possible structural dangers -- that may encourage the spread of infectious diseases.

But Carrasco is not in the enforcement business to make life difficult for local property owners and issues a lot more warnings than she does fines. "I like to work with people instead of issuing citations," she said. "I'm not out to get anyone."

But once in a while somebody must be "got".

Since first taking the job eight months ago, Carrasco has several difficult cases. For example, she been looking for the owners of a building on South Hackberry Street since starting her current job. The vacant property was becoming a serious health code violation, with weeds encroaching on the property from all sides, doors and windows absent as the home fell into disrepair.

"I was receiving my letters back unopened," said Carrasco of her multiple attempts to contact the owners of the home. "So I went to the tax office to check their records and it turned out that the property taxes were being kept current by a mortgage company with no return address."

This is one instance where Carrasco's job required a bit of sleuthing. She decided to get on the phone and start cold-calling mortgage companies near Pecos. An afternoon's work on the phone netted the company's address and yet one more notice of the property's violation was slipped into the mail.

The neglect of property, abandoned automobiles and signs tacked to utility poles can result in a Class C Misdemeanor and may be filed as a violation of city or health codes, with monetary fines ranging from $0 to $500.

While making her usual rounds on Wednesday morning, Carrasco attempted to locate the owners of several houses that have fallen into dangerous states of non-compliance, one of which was located on West Adams Street in Pecos.

The property is safely within the categorization of a dangerous building -- according to Article 111 of the city code -- because it is home to a deep, bone-dry kidney-shaped concrete swimming pool. The pool is accessible through the alleyway, and a sizable chunk of fence, which leads directly to the area, is missing, making it a likely danger to curious children.

"This could be really dangerous to kids," said Carrasco, who said she has seen children's toys in the yard containing the cement pit. There is also an abandoned vehicle on the property.

After receiving no response to a series of knocks on the front door, Carrasco affixed a "door knocker" - informing the owners of the need to demolish or cover the empty swimming pool.

Door knockers are warnings that let property owners know the exact state violation they are offending, instructions on correcting the violation and a phone number where Carrasco may be reached for further information.

Properties where the owner can not be contacted are cleaned by the city or an independent contractor. The bill is then passed on to the owner. In some cases where there is no response from the owner, a lien may be place on the holding.

Property owners from other states who never respond to the mailings present a particular problem, not only for Carrasco but for code enforcement officers throughout Texas.

"That's where I hit a brick wall," she confessed, since there is no way to enforce a code violation with residents of other states.

"A lot of people don't want to bother with their property, lots or houses," Carrasco explained.

Stressing that she had not yet filed any charges against those who fasten yard signs to utility poles, Carrasco said that people need to know that it is illegal.

"I've been stopping and taking them off. They seem to think it's not a problem, but it is," she said.

Garage sale signs tend to be left hanging indefinitely after the announced sale is passed. They are blown off as debris by West Texas winds.

"That's why we have the (KIUN radio) hotline and the paper," said Carrasco.

But Carrasco wants residents of Pecos to know that she is approachable and willing to work according to property owner's schedules.

"I'm not out to get them. I'm out to better our town."

Boards certify Saturday's election results

Results from last Saturday's local elections were certified earlier this week, after ballots were canvassed by the area's elected officials.

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD canvassed the votes on Tuesday, at the board room.

The canvas was accepted as presented with new school board members Louis Matta, Brent Shaw and Earl Bates approved. Bates was re-elected by voters, while Matta and Shaw took over three-year positions previously held by Linda Gholson and Frank Perea.

Town of Pecos City Council officials also met on Tuesday, at which time the re-election of mayor Dot Stafford and city councilmen Ricky Herrera and Danny Rodriguez were confirmed. All three won new two-year terms Saturday, with Stafford's win over Robert Hernandez the only contested race.

Reeves County Hospital Board of Directors also canvassed the election on Tuesday, with the incumbent board members Chel Flores, Jesus Prieto and Greg Luna certified for new two-year terms. Flores and Luna were unopposed, while Preito defeated Mike Stallard in the Precinct 3 election.

Board members in the Balmorhea ISD also met on Tuesday to canvass their votes, and confirmed the re-election of Armando Mondragon and Paul Ward to new three-year terms. Mondragon and Ward were challenged by Virgil Ray Gage in Saturday's election.


High Wednesday 93. Low this morning 60. Forecast for tonight: Fair, with lows in the upper 50s. West wind 5-15 mph. Friday, partly cloudy and windy. High lower 90s. Southwest to west wind 15-25 mph and gusty.

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