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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

E: Entertain your audience

There's nothing wrong with casual conversation or entertaining quips during a field stop. In fact, such tactics have proven to be effective in keeping people off guard and passing the time when you want to delay the stop. Most gang members are not accustomed to cops speaking to them in a less than authoritative fashion or even being respectful.

R: Rapport must be developed and maintained

Developing rapport with gang members should be a continual practice.  Today's suspect or defendant is tomorrow's witness or informant. When you develop a rapport with a gang member, you're establishing a positive cop/perp relationship. Most gangsters will tell you that most cops are arrogant and disrespectful toward them. Developing rapport can be the difference between confrontational and conversational.

V: Validate your authority

When making a field stop of a gangster or group of gangsters, establish your purpose for the stop. Your opening statement should do this in one sentence or two. "Hey guys, stop! I want to talk to you!"

Stating your name to the gangsters is good practice for a couple of reasons. First, it establishes that you're no longer just a cop. They now have a name to relate to the uniform or badge and a name to remember who to call to snitch on a fellow gangster.

Secondly, it's the first step in establishing rapport. Also, it's very important when you are dealing with gangsters who do not know who you are. Gang members respect authority, expect authority to interact with them, and don't respect cops who try to fit in or act like a gangster by using language they don't use properly. Gangster lingo used by a cop, taken too far, is a sign of disrespect to a gangster and gangsters will write you off as a punk cop.

I: Initiate an action or exit authoritatively

During the field stop, there will come a time when you must take official action (such as an arrest). Whatever action you decide to take, do it tactfully and make sure you're in a position to do it effectively and safely. If you decide not to take action, make a closing statement and tell the gangsters to leave or exit the area.

E: Effect arrest if safe and necessary

Should you decide to make an arrest, make sure it can be done safely and efficiently. Have adequate back-up. When making an arrest, handcuff first, search second. You'll always want to immobilize the prisoner immediately to avoid fight and flight. When it comes to gang members, get them into a safe location and away from the scene as soon as possible.

Don't hang around and gloat over your arrest or custody — get the prisoner and yourself away from potential danger. You never know when a crowd will become hostile and attack. Whether it's on a street corner,  prison runway or recreation yard, gang members can become extremely hostile when one of their own is taken into custody. Getting away quickly is not cowardice, it's good tactics.

W: Watch what happens after you leave

When it comes to gang members, they will often test your authority.  Many times, after being dispersed, they will return back to the location.  After leaving the location, return to ascertain whether they followed your orders. If circumstances permit, and the preceding guidelines are utilized, exercise your authority and let them know you mean business.

Returning to the scene or conducting surveillance of the area could result in uncovering where a drug stash or weapon has been hidden. These things are important to the gangsters, and they must be retrieved if hidden prior to the field stop.

Most gang cops, or cops interested in investigating gangs, should be conducting several field stops each day. While the preceding tactics and techniques have been proven to work, it's important to conduct the proper safety tactics taught by your agency.

I've provided suggestions to increase the safety and efficiency of field stops on gang members, but don't attempt to replace any departmental policy. Every situation is different and the rules for field stops must be adapted to reach the utmost safety and efficiency. 

Gang work must be proactive. Reactionary law enforcement, while having its purpose in fighting crime and correctional situations, is not effective in dealing with gangs. Field stops are just one way to be proactive against gangs.

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