News 11 Exclusive: In The Yuma Streets

News 11 Exclusive In the Streets

YUMA, Ariz. - Gangs run crime operations in cities across the country but if you think they do not exist in Yuma, think again.

The Yuma Police Department said there are at least nine active gangs in the area. 

Yuma's gang life revolves around narcotics and crime, according to several law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement also claims  children get involved as early as in middle school because they live in active neighborhoods and sometimes have family members that were once in gangs or are still active. 

It was at that age that one former gang member decided he was going to get involved in the criminal lifestyle.

"My name is Danny Koolick. I am a former Yuma area gang member," said Koolick. "It's something that's in our DNA. It's not something that's just like looking at this like it looks like it's something cool today. No, for a lot of us its everyday life."

In the desert Southwest, gang life revolves around two things. 

"We see more of a property and drug crime issue with the gangs," said Alfonso Zavala, public information officer for the Yuma County Sheriff's Office.

"You're seeing more meth. You're seeing fentanyl come across a lot more. It's more about making money than it is anything," added Shawn Waymire, who works with Yuma Police Department's special enforcement team. 

Koolick agrees with law enforcement. 

"It's all controlled around dope and who has it and who can get someone high," explained Koolick. "It revolves around narcotics."

Inside the Yuma County Adult Detention Center, there are 52 active gang members or 11 percent of the population, according to Zavala.  

"With the highest population of gang members coming from Okie Town. We've got West Side, Soma, Southside, Y Town, each coming in with approximately four each. These numbers reflect verified members. We do not include associates," said Zavala

Around town, you can see tagging on neighborhood walls showing which gang is representing which area. 

Some of the tagging comes from the kids themselves.

"The age they're getting involved is somewhere between 12 and 14. That's what we're seeing. Most the time its the sense of needing to belong to something or family members have been in gangs before or loyalty to friends," explained Officer Waymire.

Tyrus Twist and Kane Perez are two teenagers currently behind bars, being tried as adults for violent crimes. They both identify with known gangs. 

"If you're going to be in a gang, you can expect three things, you really can. Trouble. Trouble. Trouble. You're going to go to jail. You're going to end up addicted to something," said Koolick. 

YPD said they are seeing a trend of the younger generations committing more crimes.

"Real gangsters don't murder innocent people. We don't go around setting fires to playgrounds. I think the generational gap has changed a lot," said Koolick. "Gangs are an excuse for kids to act out and do things that normally they wouldn't do."

Koolick found himself in trouble too. 

"I've got a decent criminal history. The things I did get caught for, it's good that I did because it could've gone somewhere worse." 

The choice to live this lifestyle not only came with physical injuries for him, but it also led to violence for his family. 

"When my daughter was shot when she was 15-years-old due to gang violence, there was something that went inside of me that clicked," said Koolick. 

He claimed it led him down a road of rage.

"It just turned me into a monster," explained Koolick. 

"I was so angry at the time, at getting back. I didn't think about anything else. Then it just got me back into my addiction. I started just wandering the streets looking for anybody that had anything to do with anything." 

He said the way these crime-driven organizations work nowadays just isn't how it used to be. There is no loyalty.

Koolick now urges parents to pay attention before it's too late. 

"We've got 10-year-old kids that are alcoholics already. We've got 12-year-olds that are already using needles. I've seen it with my own eyes. What? All for the glory of a gang?,"  urged Koolick. 

Police described certain behaviors to look for. 

"Loyalty to a specific group of friends, a new nickname they go by. If you see tagging inside their rooms or on their schoolbooks or just on anything in general," explained Officer Waymire.  

"Until we show these guys and these girls involved in this that we care...and showing them that we want them to change instead of showing them how bad they're doing and what they're doing is wrong and wanting to punish them, it is not going to stop," said Koolick. 

If you or someone you know is looking to leave the gang lifestyle in the past, they can contact Victory Outreach Church. 

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