Gang members in Brick can’t often be seen peddling drugs from a street corner or recruiting new members in town. Most of the time, they come to Brick from other cities.
But the 50 or so gang members who now call Brick home still pose a threat to residents, police say.
Gang activity has played a role in the local drug trade, and police say that drug activity is behind many of Brick's burglary and theft cases.
“The vast majority of our property crime and robberies are the result of drug-addicted people,” Police Chief Nils R. Bergquist said. “Almost all of the drugs that those people are using come through a gang at one point in time.
A State Police report on gangs released last week indicated 24 members from five gangs lived in Brick in 2010. Bergquist, however, estimated about double that number now actually live in the township, though the figure is always fluctuating.
Police have identified nine different sets, or subgroups, of Bloods members in Brick, as well as three sets of Crips and a number of Latino gangs that operate in town as well.
The Los Angeles-based Bloods and Crips have long been associated with drug dealing and violence since they were founded nearly 40 years ago.
With 114 active gangs, Ocean County ranks as the fourth highest county in the state for gang activity, after Essex, Monmouth and Middlesex, according to the 2010 survey results.
Ocean County is among the top five counties in the state for heroin sales, the report said.
Indeed, investigators have cited gang activity as a possible factor in the shooting death of Lakewood Police Officer Chris Matlosz last month.
Brick police assisted in the two-day manhunt for Jahmell Crockam, who will be arraigned in state Superior Court in Toms River on Feb. 28.
“It’s not a problem that is specific to Brick or Ocean County,” Bergquist said of gangs. “There’s not a community in the country that’s immune to it."
Bergquist said a highly specialized unit of the department that targeted gang members helped increase the number of drug arrests by 300 percent.
That made Brick an uncomfortable place for gangs to sell dope, since drug users were getting locked up at such a fast pace, Bergquist said.
But that unit, the Selective Enforcement Team, was disbanded in 2010 because of budget constraints.
How They Operate
Much of the township's gang activity isn't exposed to the public. The fact that drug dealers don't sell their wares on Brick's suburban street corners is good, and bad, according to Bergquist.
“We don’t have the environment in Brick to facilitate street corner drug sales,” said Bergquist. “That activity is done in the confines of a residence, however, so it’s more difficult” to detect.
Most gang members in Brick are not homegrown, and they don’t all come from one, specific place, Bergquist said.
The most high-profile gang member to stay in Brick was William Sosa, boss of the Latin Kings in the Philadelphia region. He was arrested on Arlene Court on Feb. 3, 2005, after federal agents and local police received intelligence he had taken up residence there.
Lanes Mill Elementary School and Brick Memorial High School were both locked down while Brick police and an FBI SWAT team apprehended Sosa.
Sosa was convicted in 2006 of racketeering, drug dealing and murder conspiracy.
Fortunately for Brick, the lack of homegrown gang members has meant that little recruiting has taken place in the township schools.
“We don’t see a significant recruiting effort here in Brick,” Bergquist confirmed.
The gangs that do operate in Brick are not shy about marking their territory, however. Police provided Brick Patch with a number of photographs of gang graffiti painted on fences and outside apartments at the Cedar Garden apartment complex in June 2010.
Brick Still Safe, However
Despite the presence of gangs in Brick, the township is still one of the safest communities of its size in America, said Bergquist. And although the SET team was disbanded, apprehending gang members is still one of the department’s primary objectives.
“It’s still a priority for us,” said Bergquist. “We do arrest gang members routinely.”
Bergquist said the department has a "very good handle on who these people are, and we have a very good plan of attack.”
That attack plan is a careful combination of information gathering, surveillance operations and tracking. Police note where gang-related graffiti is tyically painted whenever gang members are arrested, and the artwork marks where they live in town.
The department recently hired a civilian to administer a special record-keeping module that tracks gang activity and gang intelligence, but the best tool to combat any form of criminal activity is having an officer on the street, police say.
“We have to find a way to get through these financial difficulties and get more cops on the street,” said Bergquist.
“The goal is for us to be able to give the cop on the street situational awareness of what’s going on in town as close to real time as possible,” the chief said, noting that the department’s record keeping and tracking efforts have been working well.
Though gangs are a problem, he said, they are not a “pervasive” problem.
“I think it’s important to point out that Brick is still a very safe place to live, and a very great place to live,” said Bergquist.