Police ID 100 gang members in Auburn in 3 years

Citizens academy gets snapshot of area gang activity
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: Journal Staff Reporter Jon Schultz is taking part in the Auburn Police Department’s Citizens Awareness Academy and will be writing about his weekly experiences in Sunday’s Journal.

As someone who commutes here to work from Sacramento, maybe the possibility that there’s gang life in Auburn gets lost on me in the beauty of the Sierra Nevada foothills, or the quaint, historic atmosphere of the town.

Apparently, a majority of the Auburn Police Department’s Citizens Awareness Academy is more aware than I am, because when Sgt. David Neher asked the group if there are gangs in Auburn, a resounding “Yes” was the answer.

However, Neher said not everyone shares that perception. He and Det. Dustin McLaughlin gave a snapshot of gangs in Auburn. Their presentation certainly woke me up.

In the past three years, police have validated and documented around 100 gang members in Auburn, they said.

“In Auburn, we’re not unique in that we’re starting to see more gang members than we did in the past few years,” Neher told members of the academy Thursday. “We don’t necessarily have a gang problem. We have gang members here who sometimes cause problems.”

Gang members here are mainly Sureños and Norteños, and contrary to belief there’s more of the former than the latter, Neher said. Along with Hispanics, there is a black and white gang presence here, too, he said.

This kind of work is Neher’s passion, he said, and it shows. He’s certified by the Institute of Criminal Investigation for gang investigations, and, likewise, McLaughlin has ICI certificates for homicide and vice.

Neher is also a member of the California Gang Investigators Association – an important tool for him to network with other agencies around the state because gangs cross jurisdictions, he said.

“We have a lot of L.A. transplants. Some are wannabe but some are very legit,” Neher said. “I have a buddy who just transferred from Stockton’s gang unit, works for the Sheriff’s department now, and he came and took a look at our book and said, ‘You guys have some legitimate guys.’ And that’s a scary thing, because L.A. is very big on gangs right now.”

In the last year, Neher and McLaughlin have stymied attempts by two Norteño sets to root themselves in Auburn.

“We have had a few that wanted to start up, and Dustin and I have been pretty proactive. We’re actually able to kind of put them on probation, find stuff on them,” he said. “Or if they are on probation, search them and find some kind of contraband, and we’ll keep putting cases on them. After a while, they got tired and they moved.”

Prison gangs are blending with criminal street gangs, and thanks to prisoner realignment, they’re interacting more than ever before, McLaughlin said. With certain felons now serving time in county jails, such as here at Placer County Jail, now it’s easier for them to communicate with their members on the street, Neher said.

“Now every single south-sider or Sureño that gets brought into the jail, let’s say for DUI, trespassing, fighting in public, now he’s actually putting taxes on this guy saying, ‘Hey, you’re not out there doing your job,” he said. “So now we’re actually going to make sure that you’re either going to get beat up, killed in some situations, because you’re slipping.’”

There’s the so-called “dropout gangs” that are offshoots of the Big 7 prison gangs, and Neher gave the example of one that started nearby.

“BBC, Brothers By Choice, that was founded by one individual from El Dorado Hills, from Placerville,” Neher said. “And that is one of the largest white pride ‘dropout’ cases, and he’s here in Auburn.”

One man asked: He’s in Auburn? “Yes, sir,” Neher replied.

Officer Carlos Castaner recently validated in Auburn an MS-13 gang member with a large tattoo across his chest.

“You can’t just get that,” Neher said. “You have to put in work, so that guy probably shot somebody or did something.”

The gang members here aren’t in sets like Los Angeles or Sacramento has, and they don’t have specified hang-outs, Neher said. They are more likely to associate with one another on a casual level and act under more subversion than if they were in a big city.

“They know a lot of people in Auburn don’t think there’s any gangs or gang members here,” he said. “So they say ‘Hey, if we’re going to be engaged in criminal activity, let’s not make ourselves that known, let’s not advertise it as much.’ So a lot of that tattoos and colors are going away, especially up here.”

One of the reasons gangsters from Southern California head north is because of injunctions barring them from hanging out in areas designated as hotbeds of gang activity in Los Angeles and elsewhere, Neher said. L.A. has more than 100 injunctions filed keeping gang members from gathering in certain locations, he said.

Those that make their way here can expect to hear from Neher, McLaughlin and company. Making their presence known has been an effective way for police to combat the issue, thus far.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to get out there and be able to go do probation searches, go give these guys some extra love – everyone needs love,” Neher said. “So we go over there and pay some attention to them, because we’ve been very lucky with that.

“If we go talk to them, ‘Hey, guess what, knock-knock-knock, bothering you,’ (they decide) ‘I’m tired of this. … I don’t get bothered if I go to a real big city.’”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews