By chris conrad
As temperatures heat up locally, so do the tensions between Medford's two largest gangs, the Norteños and the Sureños, police say.
Last week's drive-by shooting on Bryant Street in west Medford was the latest incident in a dangerous back-and-forth involving the gangs, Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said.
"We've been hearing some things that have suggested that these two gangs are having a beef right now," Budreau said. "The Bryant Street shooting is the latest bit of retaliation."
Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement officers are not commenting on exactly what might be spurring the gang tensions this time around, as they don't want to tip their hand to the gang members involved.
"We are definitely seeing an increase in gang activity right now," Budreau said. "There's been some fights going around here in Medford, and there's been some things in White City involving the gangs. The fights are leading to more extreme actions, such as this latest shooting."
Historically, that's the way it's always been among the Norteños and Sureños, Budreau said.
The intended target of the Bryant Street drive-by has not been identified. He mostly likely is involved in a gang and the last thing he wants is contact with police, Budreau said.
"We don't think that the shot was fired directly at him, but it was more like a warning shot," Budreau said.
The bullet was dug out of the ground by officers and has been lodged into evidence.
Police believe the shot came from a early 2000s silver Honda Civic sedan. The Honda, which appeared to be filled with young men in their early 20s, was last seen speeding away on Columbus Avenue.
"Even though someone was not shot in this case, we are still working this hard because we want to get a lid on this before things escalate," Medford police Chief Tim George. "You either deal with these things now, or they get out of control."
The goal is to avoid a repeat of the summer of 2009, when heightening tensions between the gangs resulted in the beating and stabbing death of 24-year-old Central Point resident Marco Antonio Diaz.
Diaz's death resulted in an influx of Sureños who travelled up from Southern California looking for revenge, Budreau said.
"We got word of them heading this way and were able to arrest them with a gun inside their car," Budreau said.
Detective Tim Kennedy, a Jackson County sheriff's detective assigned to MADGE, said the summer months often see a spike in gang activity.
"People are just out more," he said. "They run into each other on the street more often, which can cause problems."
Kennedy said that while drive-by shootings might seem like random crimes that spring out of nowhere, they are part of a troubling progression.
"This is how these guys operate," he said. "This is a retaliation for something that had happened before."
Gang members who initiate the fights and drive-by shootings are often young men seeking to make a name for themselves in the organization. However, the ages can vary, Kennedy said.
"Unfortunately, I've seen them as young as middle school," he said.
Budreau said he believes the suspects in the Bryant Street shooting will be caught.
"We are working some angles right now that could lead to identify who these guys are," he said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.