fields-gangsDetective Joey Fields, lower right, with Mayor Pasquale Menna to his left and state Senator Jennifer Beck at center, addresses an audience on the topic of gangs at the Frank Talk art gallery Saturday.

Red Bank has gang members residing within its borders, and properties here have been tagged in spray paint with gang markings.

But the depth and extent of the borough’s problems with gangs are easily exaggerated, a pair of law enforcement officials suggested on Saturday, when they addressed about a dozen residents on the state of gang activity.

Nearly every community in Monmouth County, including high-income towns such as Rumson and Little Silver, has some gang presence, they said. But over recent years, crime associated with gangs has dropped in Red Bank, and authorities watch closely for signs of rebound, they said.

“Here, it used to be out of control,” said Det. Sgt. Tom Nuccio, a former borough detective who now runs the gang task force at the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office. “It wasn’t uncommon to have out-of-town help come in on a Friday night to help control the environment. As far as I know, that hasn’t happened in the past ten years.”

nuccio-tyler-senkeleskiSgt. Tom Nuccio of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s gang task force chats with Red Bank residents Krishna Tyler, center, and Republican council candidate Kim Senkeleski at the Q&A on gangs.

Nuccio and borough police Detective Joey Fields, a lifelong borough resident, gave a one-hour presentation Saturday morning on the topic of gangs. The event, held at Frank Talk Art Bistro & Books on Shrewsbury Avenue, came on the heels of the reported arrest last month of one or more unidentified purported gang members by federal authorities.

It also followed a spree of graffiti attacks in April that appeared to be gang related. But such appearances are often misleading, Fields said.

“Most of our graffiti is not gang-related. We have caught college kids who have nothing to do with gangs” painting gang symbols on buildings, said Fields, adding that such tagging is more common in the summer when school is out.

Other graffiti attacks are believed to be the work of gang members from Long Branch and Asbury Park, but suspects often can’t be prosecuted for lack of evidence, he said.

Still, he said, when ganglike graffiti appears, it must be erased pronto, lest gangs think they’ve gained a toehold in a community.

“The most important thing is you’ve got to cover it immediately,” he said. “Youve got to let them know this is not home base.”

Fields said the measure is so critical that he would personally paint over graffiti himself if a property owner provides the paint.

Fields ran a slide show and gave some background on gangs believed to have members in town, including SUR 13, a Mexican gang said to control prisons in its native country,  and its small offshoot, MS 13; and the Five-percent Nation of Islam, which Nuccio said meets law enforcement criteria as a gang despite its foundation as a religious group.

Other gangs, notably the MOB (for ‘Money Over Bitches’) in Asbury Park and the Latin Kings, in Lakewood, have been more actively involved in known criminal activity, Nuccio said.

The event was organized by state Sen. Jennifer Beck and borough Councilwoman Juanita Lewis.