"This is just another milestone -- it's not about one big arrest that was made yesterday. This is a compilation of all these arrests and prosecutions," Asheville Police Capt. Tim Splain said. "We've hopefully come to the point where we're seeing the results of some of these efforts."
Founded in the Los Angeles area, Crips gangs, or "sets," now have a nationwide presence. While they are loosely affiliated and known for their association with certain symbols and colors (blue in this case), each gang is locally based and there is no formal national leadership.
Crips gangs in the two housing projects, especially the Four Trey (43) and Eight Trey (83) sets, have been involved in several high-profile crimes, Splain said, including a 2006 Sunday-morning shooting in the Hillcrest housing project and a robbery in March at Mars Hill College.
Thirty Crips members featured on a chart at the press conference are responsible for 140 felonies. The table of confiscated weapons -- taken just from the Crips sets -- included 12 semi-automatic handguns, three revolvers, five shotguns and four rifles (three of them assault rifles). Buncombe Sheriff Van Duncan told Xpress that the firearms didn't just include "junk" but also high-quality handguns similar to those carried by police.
Splain added that gangs are shifting to robberies as they perceive that crime to be less risky than the drug trade. "They can commit one robbery, make some money, and they don't take the risk of having to stand on the corner with drugs on them," he noted.
Splain also showed a video of Four Trey Crips leader Bradford Allen, now in federal custody, with other gang members in Lee Walker Heights bragging about their affiliation.
"This [the video] should be a wakeup call to anyone who has doubts about the gang problem," he said.
Asheville Police Chief Bill Hogan touted the successes as a result of increased collaboration. The APD, along with the Buncombe and Henderson county sheriff's offices, formed the Western Carolina Gang Task Force earlier this year. The task force cooperates with local district attorneys and the state Department of Corrections to share information, prosecute gang members and track them when they leave prison.
After seeing a 28 percent spike in local gun violence in 2006 and 2007, gang violence has become a major concern for law enforcement. Gun violence went down by 25 percent last year. In particular, Lee Walker Heights is looking at a 48 percent decrease if current trends continue, Splain said, and the city as a whole a 40 percent decrease.
"There's no guarantee, but if we can keep it up, that's significant," he added.
This won't be the last such announcement, the officials all claimed, and next time it might be Bloods, Latino gangs, biker gangs or white-supremacist gangs. The task force has been called on for operations such as monitoring biker rallies in Cherokee and working with the Madison County Sheriff's Office on the Mars Hill robbery.
"We know more now, we're more savvy, we're making more arrests. There are ongoing operations and there's going to be a lot more of this in the future," Henderson County Sheriff Rick Davis said. "We have to take out one section at a time and we're going to swing a big hammer here, I can assure you of that."