“But I've never heard anybody mention much about MS-13 for us,” he said.
But there is no easy way to count gangs and gang members, many of which have loose affiliations with one another. Even the Surenos sometimes cross-identify with MS-13, said Michael Wilds, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
Wilds counted more than 13,500 gang members in Oklahoma in a formal survey conducted in 2009, with one or more gang sets reported by law enforcement in 62 of the state's 77 counties.
Sixty percent of the gang sets identified in Oklahoma resided in Oklahoma, Tulsa and Comanche counties, and as much as 60 percent of the state's homicides are gang-related, he said.
Accounting for MS-13 in Oklahoma is tough business, Wilds said.
“You can't really focus on one gang,” he said. “When you're talking MS-13, you also need to think of the network — the drug cartels, Surenos, Mexican mafia, Latino or Mexican gangs. When you zero in on one, yeah, I would agree there's not that many MS-13s in Oklahoma; however, what scares me is those tentacles in that network and how it operates.”
Drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and even marijuana are dispatched by Mexican cartels to large gangs like MS-13, which then distributes them to smaller syndicates across the country, Wilds said.
He said a changing paradigm of gang activity, especially with the advent of cellphones and the Internet, makes today's distribution partnerships more loose and shifting.
“Where we used to see a little gang, and it was a small gang, we are now seeing combinations of gangs working together for distribution of drugs,” he said. “MS-13, they are aligned with the Mexican drug cartels and are high in moving methamphetamine across the United States on our interstates, so from a geographical standpoint, you better believe it: We do have these different gangs in Oklahoma.”