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Gangster Rap

Adams County deputies hit the road to spread the word to landlords about suspicious characters.

The Adams County Sheriff's Department has put together a manual to help landlords spot potential troublemakers--did you know that Asian gangsters like Japanese vehicles?--and is trying to spread the word on the Front Range about gangs and drugs. But after deputies took their "Landlord Training Program" up to Georgetown, a few residents of the town figured that the Adams County cops themselves were the most dubious characters they'd seen in a while.

Here are some of the clues to spotting drug gangsters, according to the cops:

* "Regular visits by people in extremely expensive cars (BMW, Jaguar, Rolls, Cadillac) to renters who appear to be significantly impoverished."

* "Very small plastic bags--the type that jewelry or beads are sometimes kept in--are not generally used in quantities by most people--the presence of such bags, combined with other factors, should cause suspicion."

* "Bags of white powder, syringes, marijuana plants, etc."
Well, duh.
"There's no crime in Georgetown to start with," says Cathy Hunninen, a longtime resident of the mountain town west of Denver along Interstate 70. "So why should we be worried about gang members moving in? What the city should be focusing on are things like domestic violence."

But Adams County Deputy Sheriff Vicki Barnett, the officer in charge of last month's program, says Georgetown's relative tranquility could soon shatter. "When gangs started showing up here in Adams County, nobody admitted it was a problem," says Barnett. "And then all of the sudden, everyone is like, 'Hey, we've got a gang problem.' This program could help them stay ahead of the game if one ever develops."

Georgetown police chief Gary Paxton says that while he doesn't anticipate his small town transforming into gangland anytime soon, he felt it was his responsibility to give the landlord program the once-over. "It's the same sort of thing as homicide training," say Paxton. "Just because we don't have any murders here doesn't mean I'm not going to train my officers in how to deal with them if one ever occurs. I like having good, educated officers. Besides, it was three hours of free training being offered, and I'll never turn down free training."

Especially when the seminar offers these helpful tidbits on spotting gang members:

*"Some popular brand names in clothing [among L.A.-style gangs] include British Knights, Fila, Task Force and Adidas, but styles are subject to change."

*"Asian gangsters usually prefer Japanese vehicles, particularly Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans. Their weapons vary, but they do like automatic weapons because of the amount of firepower they produce."

*"Satanists believe that they win their place with Satan by the commission of evil deeds and by getting others to commit evil deeds."

Barnett says that characteristics of gangbangers and drug abusers are included in the training seminars so that landlords can try to spot potential trouble. However, she adds, the program, which originated in Mesa, Arizona, tells landlords not to jump to conclusions.

"Take, for instance, a tenant who has aluminum foil covering their windows during the day," says Barnett. "Now, does that mean they have a marijuana-grow operation in their apartment? No, it doesn't. And I tell them that as a matter of fact, I have aluminum foil over my own windows at home so that I can sleep during the days when I'm working the night shift."

Linda Mahon, a Housing and Urban Development asset manager who attended one of the Adams County eight-hour public seminars a year ago in the Denver area, says many of the attendees at her session were senior citizens who weren't familiar with the trappings of drug dealing. So the Adams County cops passed around actual narcotics and paraphernalia as examples of what to look out for.

Mahon says the cops at least paid lip service to the dangers of stereotyping.

"They were careful in saying that just because a person looks like a gang member, maybe wearing their pants hanging down over their buttocks, it doesn't mean they are one," she says. "And just because a tenant is up all night playing loud music, it doesn't mean they're a crack-cocaine user."

Although Chief Paxton admits that Adams County's program might be a bit severe for landlords in Georgetown, Denver suburbs including Thornton, Arvada and Northglenn have picked it up. It's hard not to resist these helpful tips:

a"If the applicant shows little interest in any of the property except the electrical service, take note--both methamphetamine labs and marijuana-grow operations can include rewiring efforts."

a"Heroin addicts don't care about very much but their next fix--and their clothes and demeanor reflect it."

a"When an applicant arrives in a brand new BMW and fills out an application that indicates an income of $600 a month, something isn't right."

Cathy Hunninen, skeptical of the stereotyping, says, "The ACLU would have a field day with these profiles." But Deputy Barnett disagrees. "Adams County doesn't do profiles," she says flatly. "They have nothing to do with this program. I have a 22-year-old son who has long hair, tattoos and wears a leather jacket. Does that mean I'm going to profile him as a motorcycle-gang member? No way. Heck, he won't even smoke or curse in front of me.

 
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