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Gangs of Southwest Florida - A Special Report

Gangs of Southwest Florida - A Special Report

By Pooja Lodhia. CREATED Feb 13, 2012 - UPDATED: Feb 13, 2012

LEE COUNTY - Local law enforcement officers say gangs are in every area of Southwest Florida. 

We head to Palm Beach Boulevard in Fort Myers, where gang grafitti covers street signs and businesses, to learn more.

"Would you ever join a gang?" I asked one young man, who was playing basketball at Schandler Hall Park.

"That's personal," he answered.

"Are you part of a gang?" I asked.

"That's personal, too," he said.  "No comment."

Walking around the park and nearby neighborhoodds, we find signs of the Latin Kings, Barrio Azteca, and SUR 13.  They're all rival Hispanic gangs with national roots.  The graffiti that's crossed out signifies threats.

"I teach all my kids to fight," one basketball player told me.  "It's not right, but you gotta defend yourself."

Because there are warnings everywhere you turn.

"If they wanted me to steal or fight or anything, I would listen and that's how I would get to a higher rank," one former gang member told me. 

We're concealing his identity for his protection.  He mentors at-risk kids now, but tells me he was in a gang for three years before getting arrested.

"Do you miss anything about being in a gang?" I asked him.

"Sometimes I do," he said.  "Easy money, easy everything.  Instead of sitting home playing video games, you can make your own video game out there."

He carried brass knuckles and a stolen gun, but won't tell me if he ever used them.

"I dont want to answer that," he mumbled.

He will say he's seen innocent people die just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Can you tell us what that felt like for you to see that?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said.  "Just empty feeling."

We're also spoke with a gang investigator who works undercover.  We're hiding his identity. 

"It seems like it would be almost dangerous to put them in a box," he explained.  "A gang member only looks like this or a gang member only acts in this way."

"From a law-enforcement standpoint, what's the difference between a wannabe and a so-called real gang member?" I asked him.

"The wannabes are probably the most concerning simply because they want to be a gang member or they are but nobody is really taking them that serious and they know it," he said.  "They're more prone to maybe trying to prove themselves."

He's interviewed local gang members as young as ten and as old as fifty.

"Are there people right now in Lee County who are being tracked, who are being watched by your unit?" I asked.

"I can't comment," he said.

"The sheriff's office identifies criminals all the time," I asked.  "Why be so secretive about gang activity?"

"We're not necessarily trying to be secretive about gang activity necessarily," he said, "but we also don't want to provide information they might use as propaganda."

For more information on local gangs, go to