MINDEN — Douglas County Sheriff's Capt. Joe Duffy is well-versed in gang activity, so when he was asked to help the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga deal with a rising gang problem, he immediately said yes.
"It was an unbelievable experience," he said. "It was an honor to try to share my experience over the years to help the Tongans."
Duffy, a 21 year-veteran with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, spent the first several years of his career working for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Part of his time there was spent working at the notorious Men's Central Jail, which he said is the largest jail in the country. Duffy is also one of the founders of Douglas County's Tri-County Gang Unit, which includes representatives from Lyon County and Carson City.
A Nevada National Guard brigadier general familiar with Duffy's work with gangs asked Duffy if he would be interested in sharing his knowledge internationally — Tongan officials had approached the U.S. and requested help with a new, rising gang problem in the small island nation. Tonga is a remote chain of islands located in the South Pacific Ocean north of New Zealand.
Each year, about 30 Tongan nationals are deported from the United States due to crimes they have committed. From 2004 to 2012, anywhere between 22 to 38 people were deported annually, according to the 2013 Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics.
"These are not nice people. These are hardcore bad guys," Duffy said. "You're dropping them off with a Ph.D. in how to be a gang member."
In March, Duffy, accompanied by Judith Cefkin, the U.S. Ambassador to Tonga, and National Guard Brig. Gen. Zachary Doser, spent a week in Tonga participating in a three-day "National Deportation Re-Integration Conference."
Duffy spoke to the nation's parliament, military and police force, leading what he called "101-type training." Many of the people he spoke to had very little knowledge about gang activity, he said. While driving from the airport to the hotel, he passed several graffiti tags that read "TCP" — Tonga Crip Gangster.
"They didn't know what it stood for," he said. "They just don't have any experience with this."
Tonga has about 150 inmates in its one prison, which is already overcrowded, Duffy said.
He suggested officials look into forming a task force with people trained to deal with the deportees brought to Tonga each year. In addition to the U.S., Australia and New Zealand also deport Tongans annually.
"If you don't get on top of it, it will get out of control," he said.
Last week, Duffy got another call — the Tongans asked if two more deputies who are experts on drugs, specifically designer drugs such as methamphetamine, could visit the nation for another conference. One or two members of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office are slated to head to Tonga in June for the training, Duffy said. Funding for the trips is provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Duffy said.