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Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

Field Interviews During Gang Stops

Use these guidelines to more effectively deal with gang members.

November 02, 2010  |  by Lou Savelli - Also by this author

L: Look around and be alert

Continue your alertness until you're safely away from any potential danger. With most criminals, and especially with gangsters, an attack on a cop can come from anywhere. In fact, most gangs practice officer-disarming techniques and takedowns (called "takeouts") to take out a cop, when they deem it necessary.

The Latin Kings, for example, developed a cop takedown called the "Five Point Attack" in which the gangsters discreetly surround an officer engaged in a field stop of a fellow gang member. The gangsters form a five-pointed formation, in the shape of a five-point star, around the officer. While the original gang member being interviewed maintains the officer's attention, the other gang members move in.

When everyone is in position, the officer is grabbed from the rear, then from the sides until he is taken down to the ground and disarmed. In many cases, his weapon will be used against him. Remember, always be cognizant of your surroundings and the actions of those around you. 

D: Distance, Demeanor and Detain

You should determine the distance by approaching the gangsters. If you let them approach you, you'll have to retreat a bit if the distance they choose is unsafe. Your approach will give you time and opportunity to assess the gangsters you are stopping.

Your demeanor during a stop is equally important. Conducting yourself in a guarded, professional, and ready manner will make gangsters understand that you are in control of the field stop and prepared for anything.

There are many situations, when dealing with gangsters during field stops, that it will be necessary and good procedure to physically detain the gangsters. These situations arise when the safety of the officers, and the gangsters themselves, will be increased by handcuffing those persons stopped. Such situations will include the stop of multiple gang members, the stop of gang members from rival gangs at the same location, situations in which you feel your safety is at risk or those situations in which you suspect weapons are involved or a crime has been, or is being, committed.

I: Interview, don't interrogate

Asking non-judgmental questions during a stop will keep the gangsters off guard and enable you to ascertain much information. They will not think you suspect them of any wrongdoing and continue with the interview.  This tactic also keeps a situation from elevating into a physical altercation or a foot or car chase.

N: Notice the body language

While watching the gang member you've stopped, pay attention to his body language and demeanor as possible indicators of deception. Pay extra attention to these indicators during the response to your questions.  Notice which questions seem to cause the most deceptive reactions.

Body language may be indicated by placing a hand over the mouth, eyes looking away, or keeping their arms close to their body. A person's demeanor indicating deception, or something you should be concerned with, can be actions such as distancing, unconcerned, or disconnection.

When a suspect distances himself, verbally or physically, from a person or an object it could be an indication that something illegal is afoot with the person or object. For example, when a gang member is stopped in a vehicle and he maintains an unusually far distance from his vehicle, it may indicate there is contraband in a vehicle that may also be stolen.

Overly unconcerned gang members who are playing it too cool could be hiding something and are trying to keep you from becoming suspicious.  A known gang member who disconnects himself from his gang during a field interview may be telling you something has happened that he wants to avoid being connected to. 

T: Take mental and written notes

Information you obtain during the field interview with a gangster may be of great value at a later date. It is important, especially when dealing with gangs, to document the time, date and locations of the stop as well as who was stopped and who was in their company.

Gang associations can be needed for conspiratorial investigations, or court purposes, and proves valuable at a later date. "Field stop" reports should be filed in all venues. Many RICO and conspiracy cases have proven how apparently casual associations, even in a prison setting, resulted in the decision-making processes of eventual murder contracts.

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