Crips and Bloods : L.A. Gangs: Are They Migrating?

Times Staff Writer

Matthew (Crazy Case) Vick, a member of a black street gang in Long Beach called the Insane Crips, moved here three years ago to live with his grandmother and straighten out his life.

But the pattern of crime and violence that began for Vick in Southern California followed him across the Rocky Mountains, where he helped found a gang called the Rolling 30 Crips.

The Rolling 30s, one of a dozen black gangs spawned in Los Angeles and surfacing in cities throughout the West in the last two years, were soon regarded by Denver police as the most violent gang in the city.

And Vick, who already had compiled a lengthy police record for theft and other crimes in Long Beach, established his own reputation for violence last summer by shooting a Denver policeman.

Policeman Struck in Arm

Denver Patrolman Timothy Pulford was standing on a rooftop keeping watch on a black street festival in the Five Points section of the city last June when he was struck in the arm by a .22-caliber bullet fired from the crowd below.


Vick, 22, who was sentenced March 16 to eight years in prison for second-degree assault in connection with the shooting, admitted in a recent interview in the Denver County Jail that he had fired a gun during the street festival but denied aiming at Pulford.

“I was high on weed and I was just having fun,” he said. “Everybody was having fun. I took out a Luger and started shooting.”

Vick’s story, however, was disputed by another leader of the Rolling 30s, Albert (Pooch) Jones, a former Crip from Watts, who was arrested during the same street festival for a stabbing.

Jones told police he was standing next to Vick in the crowd when his fellow gang member pulled his gun, pointed it in the air and said: “Watch me shoot a police!”

The shooting of Pulford was one of a series of highly publicized incidents within the last year involving Crips from the Los Angeles area in half a dozen Western cities, including Denver, Portland, Phoenix, Seattle and Las Vegas.

Linked to Crack Sales

Besides crimes of violence, Crips and members of another group of Los Angeles gangs called the Bloods have been linked in several cities to the increased sale of the cocaine concoction called crack and the establishment of fortified rock houses where it is sold.

Police in Denver and elsewhere have offered a variety of explanations for the appearance of the Crips and Bloods--including the theory that they might be the advance guard of a Los Angeles invasion force plotting the takeover of the cocaine trade in black communities throughout the West.

Gang experts in Los Angeles, however, say the phenomenon, while a major concern to law enforcement officials, is probably more related to the random movement of individual gang members than to any organized plans for expansion.

“When the calls started coming in from other cities, we initially thought the black gangs were leaving to open up new markets,” said Sgt. Bob Jackson, a gang expert with the Los Angeles Police Department.

“Now we think they’re going (out of town) to lay low because they may be in trouble here. Or it can simply be that their parents or other relatives have moved and taken them along.”

No Central Organization

The various Crip and Blood gangs in Los Angeles, with an estimated 15,000 members among them, have never had any central organization, Jackson said. However, he added, individual gangs often aggressively recruit new members to build their power.

The reports of Crips from Los Angeles starting new gangs and recruiting local high school and junior high school students in other cities have touched off a wave of community concern dubbed “Criptomania” by police officials in Denver and elsewhere.

In Denver, where the problem is most severe, police estimate that about 20 Crips from California have helped recruit between 300 and 400 members of several new black gangs, including the Rolling 30s, the Rolling 60s and the Hoover Crips, all named after Los Angeles gangs.

Besides the police troubles of Vick and Jones, another former Crip from Los Angeles, Philip Jefferson, 19, is awaiting trial for the fatal shooting of two Denver teen-agers who crashed a Crip party last summer. A Denver youth, Michael Asberry, 17, another leader of the Rolling 30s, is serving a two-year sentence for another stabbing.

While Crips have attracted most of the police attention in Denver, officers recently staged their first raid on a rock house rented in the Five Points area by two transplanted members of the Crenshaw Mafia Gangsters, one of the Blood gangs based in Los Angeles.

Serious Problem

“The problem is serious,” said Denver Police Detective Michael J. Mullen, a leading authority on local gangs. “We had our own gangs here before the Crips and Bloods began arriving, but they were never as violent as the new groups.

“The Los Angeles gang members are looked up to by the local kids,” Mullen added. “They’ve got a street sense that the Denver gangs didn’t have before. Since they’ve arrived, crime in the black neighborhoods has become much more organized. At least some of that is coming from Los Angeles.”

With the arrival of the Crips and Bloods, however, there have also come varying degrees of community hysteria and exaggerated accounts of the violence allegedly committed by members of the new gangs.

Two months ago in Denver, a wave of assaults by black youths on white residents of the city’s Capitol Hill area was initially attributed by police to a Crip initiation ceremony. Seventeen residents were beaten and robbed by youths armed with golf clubs and other weapons, and one of the victims died.

In response to the golf club assaults, according to Denver police, some local residents started “vigilante groups” to track down potential invading Crips. Today, however, Denver officials say it appears there was no link at all between the attacks and Crip activity.

“We have five suspects in the case, and it doesn’t appear to be gang related at all,” Denver County Deputy Dist. Atty. Nate Chambers said. “There’s no evidence it was a gang initiation. The initial reports simply haven’t checked out.”

While both Crips and Bloods in Denver reportedly have adopted a lower profile since a massive police crackdown on their activities--confining themselves primarily to scrawling gang graffiti around the city--the two gangs have escalated their activities in the neighboring city of Aurora.

“We have about five to 10 L.A. Crips and another group of Bloods and what we’re finding is they have extremely strong influence over the kids here,” Aurora Patrolman Gary Sullivan said. “Petty larcenies and burglary are up and we’re finding more and more cocaine rock houses.”

Reports of Chicago Gang Tie

As in Denver, where rumors spread of a Crip plan to assassinate a Denver policeman, there have been reports in Aurora that the Crips there have joined with members of a Chicago gang called the Black Gangster Disciples, who have also moved into the city, in a plot to kill an Aurora policeman.

“My opinion is it could be true. It may not be true,” Sullivan said. “But I’m sure not going to let my guard down. I can only go by the incident in Denver and the fact that there is a tendency by the Crips to fight with us. The Crips really don’t like the police.”

While police in Denver and Aurora are openly discussing the increased gang threat after initially minimizing the problem, officials in some other cities have adopted the opposite approach, backing away from previous speculation of a massive invasion by Los Angeles gangs.

Last December, after two shooting incidents involving black youths from the Los Angeles area, Phoenix police spokesman Brad Thiss blamed the violence on Southern California gangs and said he had information that “people from Southern California are coming over and are in the process of establishing bases for narcotics.”

Two Phoenix Police Department officers were dispatched to Los Angeles just last week for briefings by Los Angeles gang experts on Crip and Blood activity in the South-Central area, but Thiss said he had no knowledge of the reason for the trip and said the problem in Phoenix has improved considerably.

“We had our real influx last October,” he said. “They were flying and driving into Phoenix, primarily looking for drug markets. We identified 100 or so.”

But Thiss said there has been relatively little gang activity in Phoenix lately. He said he believes that most of the Los Angeles gang activity is headed toward North Las Vegas.

However, police in North Las Vegas also minimize the L.A. gang problem there.

Gang Activity ‘Way Down’

“In the last six months a group from Inglewood has been running rock houses,” Lt. Dorrin Goudreau said. “But gang activity in North Las Vegas is way down.”

The most recent trouble with transplanted Crips was in March in Portland, where city officials shut down a dilapidated apartment complex that had served as headquarters for a group called the P.O. Crips, another new gang allegedly started by former Crips from Los Angeles.

“There had been eight assaults there in seven nights,” Portland Police Lt. Bruce Prunk said. “The Crips have been up here for several years, but they’ve been more active in the last year. We’ve confirmed eight or nine who are from Los Angeles. The rest are imitating them.”

Prunk, who says Crips are recruiting gang members in Portland as couriers for their cocaine business, is among those in law enforcement who believe there is an organized move by Los Angeles gangs to other cities.

“I think they are looking for another outlet for cocaine,” he said. “I think they’re up here just testing the waters right now. If they can make money here, the word will spread.”

While the gang problem is relatively new in Portland, other police officials said it has become a major community concern, with white and black parents expressing alarm at the prospect of their children being recruited by black gang members from Los Angeles.

“We’re taking it seriously here, but one thing we’re suffering from is Criptomania,” Portland Police Officer Jay Drum said. “We’ve gone to neighborhood groups and had white housewives from the suburbs tell us their children have become Crips. From what we understand about the Crips, that doesn’t seem too plausible.”

Requests for Information

Because of the increased police concern about gangs in other cities, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department report that they have been flooded with requests for information about the Crips and the Bloods in recent months.

“It’s hard for them to get an accurate picture of the situation here,” LAPD’s Sgt. Jackson said. “They’re talking in terms of a dozen or so gang members from Los Angeles, and we’re dealing in terms of thousands.

“There is some natural migration, and it’s not just out of state,” Jackson added. “We’ve had calls from San Diego, Riverside, Upland and Sacramento. Crips have shown up as far away as Louisiana. But this is still the home base for most of the Crips and the Bloods, and the level of violence here is far worse than anywhere else.”

According to one Los Angeles police expert on gang involvement in cocaine dealing, Detective Tony Moreno of the South Bureau narcotics unit, Crips and Bloods control “at least two-thirds” of the illegal drug traffic in South-Central Los Angeles.

“South-Central is a gold mine for the gangs now,” Moreno said. “There are gang members dealing all over the United States. And there will be more. All you have to know is a couple of people and you’re set up.

“But the top guys aren’t going to get pushed out of Los Angeles,” Moreno added. “It’s going to be the low guy on the totem pole who’s in some kind of trouble or whose family leaves town. I was in Denver in February and they had a Crip from Los Angeles on television talking about how bad his gang was. I’d never heard of the idiot.”

The trend could change, however, according to other gang experts in Los Angeles.

“So far it’s been the low-level gang member showing up in other towns,” said Lt. Willie Pannell of the LAPD’s gang unit in South Los Angeles. “But the black gangs have traditionally been more concerned with money than turf.

“I’ve heard stories where rock cocaine that sells for $25 in South-Central is going for as much as $80 in other cities,” Pannell added. “People are seeing they can make more money somewhere else and get less heat from the police at the same time.

“People will keep moving to other areas as long as it’s a success,” Pannell said.