GUYMON - Rival gangs are recruiting young prospects in Guymon, hitting on the rural community at an unprecedented rate, investigators said.
Detective Daniel Frantz said the area has seen an "influx of people from L.A." It appears that two opposing Hispanic gangs have started recruiting in Guymon, although they are not seeking only Hispanic residents, he said.
Bob Peak, Oklahoma Gang Investigators' Association board member, said this is one of the few times Hispanic gangs have recruited in Oklahoma.
"Latino gangs don't tend to cross state lines," he said.
Guymon's proximity to other states could have contributed to that, he said.
When a gang does get started in a city, a recruiter can enlist 40 gang members in as little as 90 days, and then the gang can continue to grow, Peak said.
But Texas County law enforcement agencies have joined forces to combat growing gang activity in the Panhandle and have had some success. Frantz said Tuesday that he thinks five to six key players have left Guymon.
Early results are promising, but officials admit the problem is unprecedented for Guymon.
Peak said gangs have started to recruit in smaller cities in the last several years, but Frantz said Guymon didn't start to have such a large problem until the end of the school year, about April.
Although it appears that recruitment efforts have gone underground, officers will continue to watch the situation closely, especially with the start of school approaching, he said.
Prosecutors have filed felony and misdemeanor charges on 12 juveniles thought to be gang members in the past month, Assistant District Attorney Megan Kennedy said. Charges range from assault on a police officer to carrying a concealed weapon.
Kennedy said the district attorney has at least another dozen juvenile cases pending.
Frantz said the team seized knives and bats used for weapons at the end of June, and gang members probably have some guns because residents have reported guns stolen in home burglaries.
Penalties range depending upon the offense and the age of the offender, Kennedy said.