There are an estimated 150,000 gang members currently in prison, and their influence spreads far beyond prison walls. AP Photo/The Denver Post, Joe Amon
All-girl gangs are on the rise, according to the FBI. Many are still in school, have a job and live at home with their parents—all while gangbanging part-time. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Taskforces are beneficial in bringing down criminal enterprises. As a group, they have better access to funds, equiptment and intelligence. Contact your local FBI office for more information on starting a MAGFT.AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
My July 2010 column (“Biker Run Tactics”) generated a lot of positive feedback. So I decided to devote this column to something that affects cops everywhere: street gang tactics.
I had the pleasure of attending a three-day FBI confab on street gang trends a few months ago. Taught by an incredible cadre of local and federal experts, the class focused on emerging gang trends, as well as enforcement strategies that departments can implement to combat this growing threat.
The conference was restricted to law enforcement professionals and entrance to the classes was by badge only, so I’m going to give you the G-rated version. Here’s why: Even though Law Officer is a subscription-only publication not available to those cop buffs and police wannabe’s you see scouring the racks of Barnes & Noble for the quasi-cop rags, I feel that keeping the heavy-duty street-gang intelligence information to a minimum is prudent.
The Gang Threats
Presently, there are about 800,000 hardcore street gang members living in the U.S. If you add in the 150,000 or so prison gang members currently behind bars and the 50,000 or so outlaw biker gang members, that’s about 1 million potential threats to officers. More than a few of these 800,000 gangbangers are third- and fourth-generation thugs. Some are as young as 8 years old.
Currently, the FBI recognizes about 40 national-level gangs. By national-level, they mean gangs that have crossed state lines to set up their criminal enterprises. The most recognizable of these national-level gangs are the Bloods, the Crips, the Latin Kings, the Gangster Disciples, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Nortenos-14 and the prison gang, the Mexican Mafia.
However, it’s the emergence of the other 2,000-plus local or neighborhood street gangs that I want to focus on in this piece. This is because the FBI feels it’s these local gangs that pose the greatest threat to law enforcement today.
Recognizing You Have a Problem
Every city has a gang problem, either from national-level or homegrown gangs. My hometown of Rochester, N.Y., has the G-Boyz and the Tremont Street Gang. Tampa, Fla., has the 54th Avenue Gang. Miami has the 77th Street Gang, and Los Angeles has had the 2,000-plus member Florencia (or F-13) gang operating in parts of their city for years. You know who your local gangsters are. Municipalities that claim not to have a gang problem are in denial: They’re delaying the plague that these street vermin bring to the communities they reside in, which is the first step to being overrun with gang crime.
Gangs are a $5-billion-a-year business. Street-corner drug dealing, drive-by shootings, home invasions, robberies, car-jackings and school violence—not to mention the graffiti and sneaker-adorned telephone wires that gangs use to mark or tag their territory—are just some of the more outward signs that gangs have set up operation in your town.
Law Enforcement’s Approach
History’s shown us that traditional law enforcement tactics haven’t worked to curb criminal gang activity. Just taking down one or two gangbangers for individual crimes still leaves the gang active and operational. Even if you’re lucky enough to nab a gang leader, most still have the juice to run their criminal enterprise while locked up.
Remember: There are almost 150,000 prison gangbangers behind bars, and most prison gangs are just off-shoots of street gangs. Unless the entire gang is disrupted and dismantled, those on the outside are still active and able to keep their illegal enterprises operational. Also, just taking down one or two gang members gives the appearance to the gang that their local police agency is inept and ineffective in completely shutting down their operations.
So what’s the answer? Recognize these gangs for what they really are: criminal enterprises. Many small- to medium-sized cities that don’t have the manpower or funds to create their own full-time gang units have established Multi-Agency Gang Task Forces (MAGTF). These task forces comprise federal agents (mostly FBI, but sometimes ATF, Postal Inspectors and DEA agents) and local cops. By including the feds, these taskforces benefit from the expertise the FBI has in prosecuting large-scale criminal enterprises via the RICO statutes.
They can also take advantage of equipment and funds the feds have at their disposal. The asset forfeiture that goes along with federal prosecutions of cash, guns and cars that these gangs possess is just icing on the cake. But the real benefit of MAGTF—besides the show of force they bring during any arrest—is the intelligence other local cops bring to the table.
Pieces of the Pie
Although there’s no doubt the feds have the tools and funds, nobody knows your turf better than you do. School Resource Officers (SROs) are in the presence of potential, sometimes current, gangbangers every day. SROs see the faces, know the street names and see the social activities of these members on a daily basis.
Your correctional officers know the real names of the members and most likely will have full-face photographs and pictures of their gang tattoos, as well as a list of visitors.
Parole and probation officers are also an incredible source of intelligence on these people as they pass through the criminal justice system. They may have monthly or even weekly contact with them, and may have even performed home visits.