Vargas: Publicly identifying criminal street gangs now makes sense, and here’s why


On Nov. 11, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Santa Ana Police Department, Tustin Police Department and others conducted a series of raids targeting the Loper’s gang from Santa Ana.

Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors taking action against street gangs is not new. Every day, police officers come into contact with gang members. Many times these contacts result in arrests. Other times they are just sporadic field contacts to ensure they are behaving themselves.

What made this raid unusual was the naming of the Lopers gang in media releases and interviews.

Police departments have routinely not publicly identified gangs by name. Mainstream media has long cooperated with this practice. As a veteran police officer, we were taught giving any kind of recognition to gangs only enhanced their self-importance and thereby increased the gang’s reputation within gang culture.

At least that was the thinking back then.

Fast forward to 2016. The media environment has changed dramatically. It’s not just newspapers, radio and television that disseminate the news, but also social media. Some would argue it is even a bigger platform than traditional media.

Street gangs have adapted to the new media. They routinely post to social media these days.

The Santa Ana Lopers gang has its own YouTube video that apparently features its members. The video has more than 90,000 views. In the discussion board there are more than 600 posts.

The theory that gang members will use news coverage as a platform to boost their reputation is no longer valid. They don’t need mainstream media to do that anymore.

Most police departments also have adapted to new media. They have undergone a philosophical shift to greater transparency regarding information they provide to the public.

Law enforcement agencies now routinely provide access to real-time crime data for the public to digest. They publish activity logs and even include online links to see who’s been arrested.

Should the public also know which street gangs are in their community and the crimes their members are committing?

A few cities have long taken a very proactive step in that direction. The City of Fresno PD routinely identifies suspects as gang members, and the gangs they claim when they are arrested for committing crimes.

The reasoning is a better-informed citizenry can help address the gang problems. Being informed about how street gangs impact the safety and security of communities is the first step to solving the problem.

For example, a suspect leads police on a chase and crashes. The suspect is a gang member. But does the public know that? Does it make a difference?

Similarly, a suspect commits a serious assault or robbery. Wouldn’t you like to know if the person was a gang member? And if so, what gang they claimed?

The strategy of identifying gang members by gang affiliation can help to create an atmosphere of public engagement. If the public is more aware of the crimes being committed by specific gangs, they will be better prepared to be an effective part of solving the problem of gangs.

The community also will be in a much better position to be supportive when, as a last resort, gang injunctions are sought by prosecutors and local law enforcement.

I think this simple step will make a dramatic change in community awareness of the gang problems in their communities.

If you would like to see the geographic locations of identified street gangs in Orange County, you can find it here.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at