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I was asked about gangs in Billings the other day. How bad is the gang activity, how many gang members are in Billings, what are some of the gang names, and what are gangs involved in? Some may be surprised by the answers.

First, there are somewhere between 300 and 750 gang members in Billings as you read this. The number depends on how you define a gang member, what time of year it is, and even what is happening in Billings at any one time. The gangs go by various names, including:

Bloods, Surenos, Piru Bloods, LVL (Little Valley Locos), Neighborhood 5 Star Bloods, MS-13, Rez Bloods, Latin Kings, Crips, Juggalos, Mockpaw Crips, Modern Outlaws, 18th St. Crips, Folk Nation-Gangster Disciples, 300 Block Crips,  MT Front Working Class Skins, Nortenos, White Supremacists, Peckerwoods, North Side Locos, Mexican Mafia, Northern Barrio Locos, Skinheads and Varrio Catorce.

Some of these “gangs” are hybrids (a cross between gangs and neighborhood cronies), some are junior high kids claiming colors, some are gang wanabees, and some are genuine bad guys looking to make money in a place they see as “open” due to opportunity, lack of police manpower, and lack of competition. All are looking for a sense of belonging.

Some gangs are into graffiti, some participate in petty crime, such as vandalism and theft, and some are looking to make money in the drug trade. Most gangs wear “colors”, often bandanas hanging out of their pockets. Most gangs also have symbols, such as a star, crown, numbers, a pitchfork, or a pyramid.

We have gang members from other states, often California, who move here or transfer their probation here to “start a business” such as drug trafficking, prostitution, or something similar. According to my law enforcement source for this article, who wanted to remain anonymous, “we will see a lot more gang activity as we grow.” This source also mentioned the lack of manpower the BPD and Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office have to nip this problem in the bud.

I recall about two decades ago when gangs such as the Bloods and Crips first came to town, law enforcement would arrest them if they jaywalked, littered, or had a taillight out. They got the picture they were not welcome, and many left. Law enforcement is currently having a hard time keeping up because of stretched resources. The jail is well over capacity so where to put criminals is an issue. This opens up our city to gang exploitation.

Lest I not leave you with all bad news, we do have a Yellowstone County Gang Task Force who meet monthly to strategize on how to use the resources available to combat the gang problem. These unsung heroes make a difference.

While this picture of gangs in Billings is not a pretty one, and may even come as a shock to some, forewarned is for armed, and it is better to be aware of what is occurring so we can have a city wide discussion on how to deal with this gang issue we all face, directly or indirectly.

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Yellowstone County District Court Judge Russell Fagg write a monthly Ask the Judge column.