By Kimberly Miller
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Gangs on campus.
It might not be as far fetched as you think.
According to figures from the Gang Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission, or GITEM, thousands of gang members live and operate in Tucson.
GITEM is a multi-agency task force designed to deal with gang related activity. It was formed from money appropriated through the Arizona governor's office after Tucson was targeted as an area with growing gang activity.
Don Buotte, a University of Arizona Police Department officer and GITEM member, said Tucson is seeing a major influx of gangs because of overcrowding in California.
"What we have in Tucson is a very serious gang problem, and a lot of people don't realize it," Buotte said.
Most gangs are located in Central and South Tucson, but that does not mean the UA campus is safe from gang activity, Buotte said.
"The UA is like a grocery store to these kids," Buotte said. "Because of the high concentration of quality bicycles, cars and stereos they're just naturally drawn there."
Gang graffiti from the "4th Avenue Crips" was recently found on the Martin Luther King building, 1322 E. First St.
Buotte said Tucson High Magnet School, 400 N. Second Ave., has a lot of problems with gangs and because it is so close to the UA, many young gang members have easy access to campus.
"Tucson High's got a problem," Buotte said. "You walk in the hallways of Tucson High and it's like you have to wear a helmet, flak jacket, and carry an M-16. The school yard looks like a jail yard."
Bob Granado, vice principal of Tucson High, said he realizes there are gang members in the school but the school does not have a problem with gangs.
"I'm sure we do have gangs here," Granado said. "I would be naive not to think so. But in our school it's just not a big problem."
Although Tucson High has a closed campus and students are not allowed to leave during school hours, Buotte said he often finds students wandering around the UA. But because the UA campus is public property, unless they are skipping school, officers can only talk to them and ask what they are doing.
Another GITEM officer, Del Blunk, agreed that Tucson High has gang problems. He said Barrio Centro, Barrio Hollywood and the 4th Avenue Crips are all gangs that operate in neighborhoods around the UA. Although he said these gangs are not as sophisticated and organized as some, they have weapons and should not be underestimated.
"Since you're so close to Tucson High you probably will get some gangs," Blunk said. "You're just too close."
UA Police Chief Harry Hueston said most UA students aren't aware of the gang problems in Tucson.
"I don't think the students fully understand the problem because they don't see it," Hueston said. "The majority of the problems are peripheral. But that's just a matter of time."
Buotte said gangs are attracted to campus because some students are their customers.
"Unfortunately there are people on campus who need drugs," Buotte said. "They know this and the UA is a magnet for gang members. A big magnet."
Read Next Article