ALBANY, NY (WRGB)-- "To make a statement on the streets in the gang world, the more vicious you are the more respect to get."
Gang prevention specialist Ron Barrett says MS-13 is as vicious as they come.
"They're prone to using machetes to cut limbs off if they have to to make a statement."
The Rensselaer County Sheriff says "MS-13 is one of the most violent gangs police encounter" and that it's only a matter of time before they permeate the Capital Region.
The gang has been making headlines downstate and on Long Island for brutal slayings - but Barrett says it originated in Los Angeles back in the early '80s when members came to the U-S from El Salvador during its Civil War.
He says unlike other notorious gangs, MS-13 stays mostly under the radar - and members can be hard to identify.
"That's one of the biggest issues. You used to be able to pick out a gang member just driving down the street because of the way they dress," said Barrett.
But Barrett says you'll know when the gang is present in a community by its graffiti - which he says is used for intimidation and recruitment.
"They're literally going to mark the walls, mark buildings, they're going to show you they're there," he said.
Barrett says MS-13 is a different breed of gang - an animal that's a constant fight for law enforcement to tame.
"Any other gangs, you've got to work with intervention, prevention, and suppression all in one."
But with MS-13, Barrett says suppression - by getting members off the streets and behind bars - is the only effective response. And for this gang - even that isn't necessarily a punishment.
"Jail gives them better living conditions than they had back in their own country. You know when they're getting locked up they're getting three meals a day, a place to sleep, and healthcare!," he said.
Barrett says parents here don't have too much to fear about their children getting involved with MS-13 - because he says the gang has a strict code of admitting only people from their own ethnicity.
But he does still encourage parents to be proactive in speaking with their kids.