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Police expect title fight to draw gang members

Las Vegas police are concerned that fisticuffs in the boxing ring won’t be the only violence associated with Saturday’s big title fight at the MGM Grand.

Police are expecting dozens of gang members from Los Angeles to come to the Las Vegas Valley this weekend for Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s championship bout with Oscar De La Hoya, said Capt. Al Salinas, of the Metropolitan Police Department’s gang unit.

“Their (Los Angeles’) problem children come here,” Salinas said. “While they’re here, they’re committing crimes.”

This weekend, Las Vegas police expect to see an influx of not only Bloods and Crips, but also members of Hispanic gangs, such as 18th Street. The Los Angeles-based 18th Street gang is one of the largest street gangs in the country, with membership estimated in the thousands in Los Angeles alone, police said.

Undercover Las Vegas gang unit police detectives will be conducting surveillance inside the MGM Grand Garden during the boxing match to “keep an eye on some major players,” Salinas said.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s gang unit won’t be the only law enforcers attending the fight. Upwards of 110 officers will be patrolling at and around the MGM Grand Garden arena or directing traffic outside the building, said Sgt. Chris Little of the department’s special events section.

The MGM reimburses the Metropolitan Police Department’s overtime costs for officers working the fight, Little said. The cost is determined after the fight.

Even though police are expecting a record-setting crowd for the fight, Little said Las Vegas police have plenty of experience with similar high-profile boxing matches. “In the past, there have been incidents at fights, and we’re trained to handle them,” Little said.

The most notorious case was the 1996 shooting of rapper Tupac Shakur and music mogul Suge Knight. After the title fight between Mike Tyson and Bruce Sheldon at the MGM Grand, Shakur and Knight were shot as they were driving on Flamingo Road near Koval Lane. Knight suffered only a minor head wound possibly caused by shrapnel, but Shakur later died from his wounds.

In June 1997, a riot erupted inside the MGM Grand after Tyson’s infamous ear-biting bout with Evander Holyfield. At least one woman broke her leg during the melee.

Police said Saturday’s boxing match is not comparable to the February NBA All Star week, when police arrested more than 400 people and five people were shot, including two bouncers at the Minxx nightclub after a fight broke out involving Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones.

The NBA All Star game at the Thomas & Mack Center was preceded by a series of events throughout the valley over several days, while the De La Hoya/Mayweather fight is “one event concentrated at the MGM,” Little said.

Valley police have identified other events this weekend that might be problematic, however.

One is a barbecue at North Las Vegas’ Desert Horizons Park, on Simmons Street between Craig Road and Cheyenne Avenue on Saturday. A local record label, Black on Black, is sponsoring that event, and police say they are worried that it will involve gangs.

The “Black on Black BBQ” is being advertised on Myspace.com by the record label’s head, 19-year-old Jimmy “Skip” Walker.

Walker said there will be a free-style rapping competition, a basketball tournament and a car show at the event. He disputed the police claims that the event is gang-related.

“This whole barbecue is for our fan base,” he said. “It’s going to be little kids and old people. The gang-banging thing is totally false.”

Walker conceded that he too is concerned about gang members showing up and causing problems. But a strong police presence should help keep the gang members away, he said.

North Las Vegas police Officer Tim Bedwell said the barbecue might not take place because the sponsors hadn’t fulfilled the requirements to get a permit to hold an event at the park.

Walker said Wednesday that he didn’t believe he needed a permit because he won’t be selling food, so he was set to proceed as planned.

If the event should have a permit and doesn’t, police will break it up, Bedwell said.

Police throughout the valley are also expecting some problems because the Mexican national holiday of Cinco De Mayo falls on Saturday this year. Like the Fourth of July, people often celebrate on Cinco de Mayo with family gatherings and parties that involve plenty of drinking.

The result is expected to be more drunk drivers, domestic violence calls and noise complaints, Las Vegas police Officer Bill Cassell said.

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