It's a common sight in Moline's Floreciente neighborhood: spray-painted gang signs, symbols and numbers.
As Moline Police Department Officer Pat Moody drives through the city's west end, he identifies the graffiti with gangs. Police have worked hard to control and clean up the area, but the gang reminders are just a spray-paint can away.
"This is such a good community down here," Officer Moody said. "There are so many hard-working people. Good people."
He drives past the police substation at 402 4th Ave. "Our building got tagged," he said. "Eggs were thrown at our building. It got tagged by the Low Riders.
"Completely stupid," he said. "It's one thing, tagging a garage or house. But when you tag a police station, you've just attracted our attention. You've made it harder on yourselves. We're going to work that much harder to go after you."
Gang activity is on the rise in these parts, Officer Moody said. With it comes a whole subset of problems: crime, intimidation, drugs and school safety.
The Floreciente neighborhood is the turf of choice for many Quad-Cities gangs.
"These guys say they're your friends, but they're really not your friends," said Moline police Detective Pedro Valladares. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of people involved in gangs from other parts of the city, or cities, who will go down to that part of Moline to cause their trouble.
"We have a lot of good residents who live there and have no involvement in that kind of stuff," he said. "Kids want to bring it down there for some reason."
Gang activity is like a wave, law enforcement officers say. Some years it increases. Other years, it goes down.
"Right now, we're going through a bad wave," Officer Moody said. "We're trying to do everything we can to correct it."
He shows a list of arrested men affiliated with area gangs. There are pages of mug shots with names and offenses. They are people who can ruin their own lives and the lives of neighbors.
Officer Moody drives along Railroad Avenue. In the 500 block, he stops at a house the city condemned for code violations after police arrested someone inside on a parole violation. It was a hangout for the Low Riders gang.
Officer Moody stops at the house, which is in poor condition. The owners are outside.
Officer Moody asks permission to go inside. He's trying to find a gun supposedly hidden in a couch in the basement. He received information that the weapon may have been used in a recent armed robbery.
The basement floor is littered with empty vodka and beer bottles. There is no electricity. The owner brings a flashlight downstairs.
Officer Moody doesn't find the weapon.
"This was such a major problem in the city," he said of the home. "There were literally 10 to 20 people hanging out here."
The owner looks nervous. "Me and my wife, we come and said the people need to get out of here," he said, admitting that he was afraid to push the envelope too far. It's the intimidation gangs use to establish their territory.
"I've been so busy in the last few months," Officer Moody said back in his car. "The cases I've been working on have turned into other cases, all gang-related.
"It started with a residential burglary, and it turns to so much other stuff -- arson, armed robbery, shootings," he said. "One of the problems is the department is suffering manpower issues."
Officer Moody and Eddie Alaniz, his partner, try to build trust with the residents. Using a federal grant, the two officers recently were able to start a wrestling program for children, many from the west end.
They have an open door policy. Youths can come in, get a treat, and talk about anything. Officer Moody said a lot of the kids just want someone to talk to for a little guidance or to know that someobdy out there cares about them.
Earlier in the day, he interviewed a 14-year-old gang member. The boy told the officer he had a .38-caliber handgun.
A lot of kids become active in gangs in middle and high school, Officer Moody said. "At the grade school level, a lot of these kids know what's going on. They know the symbols, the colors to the gangs. The reason is their brothers, cousins, uncles and family are involved in gangs.''
Youth programs help a lot, Officer Moody said. "Thank God there is a Boys and Girls Club on the west end of Moline. It has been completely awesome for this area."
Area gang activity mainly comes from the Low Riders and Bishops, predominantly Hispanic street gangs, he said.
A weekend shooting near Ericsson Elementary School last month wounded two people, including a pregnant woman. It was gang-related, he said.
"It's an ongoing dispute. The girl was probably just an innocent bystander at the time,'' he said. "The guy had other members, high-ranking members within his gang, standing in the yard when it happened. They all ducked and took cover."
Officer Moody expects a long summer. As he talks, he sees a fellow officer stopping a vehicle on 4th Avenue near Moline's border with Rock Island and pulls behind the vehicle to assist.
The man pulled over has a long rap sheet and admits to being a Gangster Disciple.
The driver was heading into Rock Island with 14 $100 bills. The SUV he was driving, registered in Cook County, is not his vehicle.
"We're going to be relentless," Officer Moody said after the stop. "We're going to do everything we can to dismantle those gangs or cause as much grief as possible for them."
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