Gang violence on the rise in Eugene

Reports of gang-related violence surprised the campus community last month, and though arrests have been made in relation to those incidents, they were only a microcosm of gang activity and gang-related violence in Eugene.

Det. Greg Harvey of the Eugene Police Department said four suspects have been arrested in connection with assaults in the West University neighborhood. But three suspects are still at large, and they are only a small part of the local gang [email protected]@[email protected]@

Harvey said more than three dozen gang groups operate in the Eugene area. The gang EPD believes is involved in the assaults near campus has more than 25 members. Harvey said that gangs in Eugene are recruiting and becoming more violent.

One student, who wished to remain unnamed, witnessed one of these acts of violence. When he was leaving a party at about 11 p.m. a few weeks ago, he saw one of his female friends being accosted by a group of men. He tried to step between the men and his friend to defuse the situation. The men shoved him to the ground and punched and kicked him, leaving him with bruises and a black eye.

“I managed to run away before they did too much damage,” he said.

Harvey said this was typical of the behavior these gangs have been exhibiting. He described how gang members intentionally bump into other people at parties, in hopes of getting an aggressive response.

“Some of it is just to get respect in the gang,” Harvey said.

Although violence is an outward manifestation of the problem, it’s not the primary focus of gang activity. Gang members in Eugene engage in all manner of criminal enterprises, from prostitution and drug sales to home invasions and thefts.

Harvey said, “We’ve had at least two robberies — violent robberies,” tied to gang activity.

Harvey said gangs were not confined to one race or other population demographic; gangs are recruiting from all facets of society.

“You can’t look at race … around here, race isn’t playing a role,” Harvey said.

To combat the problem, EPD has started organizing a Gang Enforcement Team. Harvey has conducted trainings with all local law enforcement agencies, including the University Department of Public Safety, so officers know what to look for.

Lt. Mike Morrow, who is in charge of training and professional standards for DPS, explained that one of the keys to spotting gang activity is to look for things or people that are out of place or don’t fit with the [email protected]@[email protected]@

Harvey said gangs are reacting to this training. Although gangs would usually wear distinctive colors to identify themselves and their group, Harvey said some gangs have stopped this practice to prevent identification by police. Still, Harvey indicated that a group dressed in similar attire is one of the hallmarks of a gang.

Harvey continued to explain that one of the difficulties in prosecuting gangs is how tightly knit gangs are. He described a situation where a gang member had to choose between his gang and his family. Even with his mother sobbing in the background, the man sided with his gang. Harvey said that gangs are like family to many members, which is what makes gang membership attractive.

Harvey asked that people who see or are victims of gang-related violence report it to police, even if they do not want to press charges.

“We have to know this stuff is happening; otherwise we can’t fix it,” Harvey said.

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