Unpleasant, but true:?Crime happens even in the smallest cities. Residents of Gloversville, Johnstown and Amsterdam have come to expect to hear about the occasional burglary, drug raid or assault.
But news that big-city street gangs consider these communities part of their territory comes as a shock.
Latin Kings, Bloods and Crips - synonymous with inner-city gang wars - are not just a metropolitan problem.
In this Nov. 13 file photo, Amsterdam Police Chief Greg Culick speaks to the media about the arrests of several people with ties to the Latin Kings street gang. (Photo by Arthur Cleveland The Leader-Herald)
While not as active here as they are in the major cities, they have tenuous ties to local communities. Two weeks ago, members of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation were among the 12 people arrested in a series of raids by the Amsterdam Police Department.
Police seized heroin, a pound of marijuana, an "eight ball" (3.5 grams) of cocaine, two stolen handguns, cash and several vehicles. Among those arrested was the local "First King," David Canales, who leads the local members of the Latin Kings in Amsterdam, Johnstown and Gloversville, according to Amsterdam Police Chief Greg Culick. The other alleged Latin Kings arrested in the drug raid were Ricardo Aponte of 2 Harrison St., Carlos M. Vega-Carbonell of 48 Jay St., and Peter W. Santos, of 68 Arnold Ave..
The raids and arrests followed a five-month investigation.
The Latin Kings are a predominantly Hispanic street gang originally from Chicago, but its membership has spread across the nation. The Latin Kings have brother tribes in the borroughs of New York City.
According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment produced by the FBI, the Latin Kings have "a working relationship" with Mexican drug trafficking organizations, several incarcerated members involved in prison gangs, and members who serve or have served in the military in warzones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and some have been involved in white-collar crime.
Culick said he's heard troublesome stories about the Latin Kings, some from former members of the gang who have left New York City for Amsterdam in an attempt to escape gang life. Those attempting to "snitch" on the gang can face brutal retribution, Culick said.
Amsterdam Police Detective Michael Cole said he believes about 30 members of the gang live in Amsterdam, including several who were arrested during the raid.
Major Wayne C. Olson of New York State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team said gang members come to smaller urban areas like Amsterdam looking for new territory and contraband markets.
"It's really driven by what they see as opportunities," Olson said. " ... Gangs, guns and drugs pretty much go together."
Olson said some gangs move into new areas after other gangs have been cleared out. The CNET team will keep an eye on areas that have previously been cleared out to see if new gangs enter the area or others return, he said. Some gangs are difficult to uproot, he said: The more organized a gang is, the tougher they are to remove.
Culick reported the Latin Kings are well organized, complete with an internal organization meant to enforce the gang's interests, keep order among members and prevent any acts that would endanger the organization. A statewide leader keeps an eye on the First Kings - the local ganglords - while the First Kings watch over smaller areas that have been carved out.
"This is why we started to do such an intense investigation," Culick said.
Meetings of the gang, called "church," are mandatory, and the gang's internal police force punishes any member who does not show up for a meeting.
Amsterdam Police Detective Lt. Kurt J. Conroy said gangs have become more prevalent in the last 20 years in Amsterdam. However, Conroy said, it is difficult to say what has caused the increase. He said there has been some recruitment locally, though many of the members of local chapters of gangs are older.
Amsterdam police have tried to identify members of local gangs, and they have kept the Latin Kings on their radar for several years.
"There is always the threat of violence," Conroy said.
Even the Latin Kings' initiation involves violence, Culick said, noting several assaults have occurred in the last few years by members initiated into the gang. In an incident on Chestnut Street, he said, a victim was punched in the face with brass knuckles and another was slashed with a razor.
Other street gangs, such as the Bloods and the Crips, have been reported around the area.
Gloversville Police Capt. John Sira said in the last 18 months, activity by members of the three gangs has picked up in the Gloversville area.
Two shootings and a stabbing that occurred last year in Gloversville were both aggravated due to gang hostility and relations. While neither crime was motivated purely by gang affiliations, they were an underlying circumstance.
In August 2011, Louis "Black" Robinson, 25, of the Bronx, Codie Hayward, 23, of 16 Littauer Place, Gloversville, and Edwin J. Pastor, 26, of 107 East Ave. in the town of Johnstown, struck Amsterdam resident David Ortiz with a loaded handgun "in a 'pistol-whipping' fashion." The handgun discharged, and Ortiz was shot in the nose at point-blank range. He survived.
Police said the three co-defendants sped away in a vehicle that was later identified in Amsterdam and used to help find them.
Gloversville police have said Ortiz's shooting was believed to be "gang-related," but they haven't said whether any of the men are affiliated with a particular gang.
In another incident, Hayward had been shot 10 days earlier in his home. In that case, Tyquanne "Turk" Madison, 24, of Brooklyn, was indicted in December on charges of attempted murder, assault, criminal use of a firearm and criminal possession of a weapon - all felonies.
Irving D. McNeil, 24, of 1101 Putnam Ave., was convicted of stabbing 27-year-old Laterence Wilson of Eighth Avenue, Gloversville, on Aug. 3, 2011, in Gloversville. Wilson was stabbed in the chest and groin.
After the stabbing, Wilson was taken to Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville and airlifted to Albany Medical Center Hospital, where he had emergency surgery.
According to Gloversville Captain of Detectives Anthony Clay, what makes removing gang activity from the community is the lack of any central headquarters and visible connections between members.
"There's not one Blood chapter that meet up at the Ramada Inn for a convention," Clay said. Many gangs sharing "Blood" in the title could be only loosely affiliated with the infamous Los Angeles gang. What makes arrests even more difficult is that members of the gang may be transient - only visiting Johnstown or Gloversville for short periods.
"Their activities tend to mean they need to be [mobile]," according to Clay.
Clay said he was hesitant to estimate the number of gangs or gang-affiliated people in Gloversville for that reason.
"It fluctuates a lot," he said.
Johnstown Police Chief Mark Gifford said arrests for drug sales in Johnstown also are linked to the gang problem in Gloversville. Gifford said those arrested in Johnstown are sometimes the same people arrested by Gloversville police.
"It is our problem just as much as theirs," Gifford said.
Gifford said there has been an increase in drug arrests in recent years.
Both Gloversville and Johnstown police have been working together as part of the Fulton County Drug Task Force, according to Sira. The program allows police to share information and resources between departments.
Reporter Arthur Cleveland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.