Bryant Street, the Pacoima Crips, San Fernando: all dangerous street gangs whose sinister monikers are seemingly everywhere defacing the walls, fences and public property on the mean streets of LA, but also more and more within the boundaries of CSUN’s campus.
“It’s probably a bunch of juveniles marking territory,” said Jorge Rodriguez, 22, a sociology major with an emphasis in criminal justice.
“But this isn’t their territory,” he said, adding that it’s despicable – a disgrace.
“You’re in college. You should be grown up. It’s behavior that shouldn’t be in college,” he said.
Christina Villalobos, public information officer of the campus police, said in an e-mail that the graffiti problem has been growing, but added that graffiti itself doesn’t harm students.
“It depends on how you define ‘threat’,” she said.
“We are analyzing graffiti closely to see if we can determine where it comes from,” she said, adding that some graffiti is clearly associated with street gangs.
Anne Glavin, chief of police on campus, agrees, saying that gang-related graffiti is a city-wide problem, but in an open society – and on an open campus, there is little anyone can do to prevent it.
“It’s no different from walking down a public street,” she said, adding that anybody carrying a can of spray paint can write whatever they want, and unless they’re caught in the act, all anybody can do is report it, analyze it and remove it.
“I’m not minimizing it,” she said, adding that her department deals with graffiti as it’s reported to them.
Glavin said gang activity on campus poses no real threat to students, saying that all crimes, regardless of whether they are gang-related or not, are dealt with quickly and effectively.
Tom Brown, executive director of CSUN’s Physical Plant Management oversees the maintenance of the campus, including removal of graffiti. He agrees that the problem is getting worse.
“We treat graffiti like a fungus,” he said, adding that PPM makes every effort to deal with it within 24 hours of its discovery.
When Brown’s workers find graffiti anywhere on campus, they report it to the campus police, who quickly photograph and catalogue it in an effort to determine whether or not it’s affiliated with a street gang, he said.
“We call in the reports to Scott Vanscoy,” he said, a lieutenant within the campus police.
Detective Sergeant Dana Archer of the campus police conducts investigations of graffiti found on campus, often sharing his findings with the gang experts at the Devonshire Division of the LAPD. Officer Moakley of the Devonshire Division said both departments share intelligence on a regular basis.
Some of the graffiti is done by “wannabes,” but some of it is done by authentic gang members, he said.
Archer, who’s been with CSUN’s campus police for 20 years, agrees. He said most of the graffiti identified as gang-related on campus is done by juveniles who want to appear to be gang members, but conceded that a portion of it is real.
Catching people in the act of writing graffiti is extremely rare, he said, but added that gang affiliations are sometimes discovered while in the process of investigating a crime pursuant to an arrest.
He described how his officers had recently stopped someone for driving under the influence, which led to the discovery of marijuana in his vehicle and then to a charge of interfering with a police officer.
When a detainee is checked for warrants, any known gang affiliations are usually discovered at that time, he said.
Pam Hineman, a self-described former drug addict and biker who works at a drug rehabilitation facility populated in large part by former gang members, described the danger her co-workers face when they remove gang monikers from the walls of her facility.
“They get death threats,” she said.
Aware of the territorial and potentially dangerous nature of gangs and gang tagging, Brown asked that none of his employees’ names be mentioned as the individuals responsible for graffiti being removed.
“I would want to say publicly that we remove all graffiti. We don’t give any preference to any gang,” he said, adding his department’s only consideration is to keep the campus in as clean and pristine a condition as possible.
One of PPM’s employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he’s certain much of the graffiti is from gangs and described having seen and removed the initials “SF” and “PC.”
“A lot of it is in Sierra Hall and Jerome Richfield Hall in the bathrooms,” he said.
Frightened of having his name mentioned in this article, a former gang member not associated with the university, confirmed that “PC” and “SF” stood for the Pacoima Crips and San Fernando gangs respectively.
Archer isn’t sure why gang members are on campus, but assumes it’s to mark territory.
He said that while most of the people identified as gang members on campus aren’t students, his department is aware that there are some who are, adding that he suspects they don’t last long in their courses of study.
He said that often gang members show up on campus to visit their friends living in dorms.
Benjamin Davis, a sociology major with an emphasis in criminology, believes that membership in gangs and everything that follows, including tagging with their monikers, is due to shortcomings in society itself.
“Gangs are a way for people to get a new family,” he said, adding that he believes gang members tag their monikers in order to achieve a sense of pride that has been deprived them in the absence of a real family.
“It’s disturbing,” said Kortney Tatum, 24, a graduating psychololgy major. “You should feel safe at school, and to know that there are gang bangers on campus or in school, it’s disturbing to see that we have that on campus.”
Members of the campus police were careful to keep any gang involvement on campus in a reasonable perspective, saying that it makes up only a small percentage of campus crime.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a credible threat,” Archer said, “but I think it’s a credible fear.”