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Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs: Making the Cut

Outlaw motorcycle gang members gain status by committing criminal acts for a patch that can be sewn directly onto their cut.

May 17, 2011  |  by Chuck Schoville

The prosecution's lineup of witnesses usually includes a cooperating individual who may have been a member of a motorcycle gang and understands the motivation of being a member. The defense will argue that the star witness will only testify as the prosecution desires and will attempt to discredit the witness every way possible. Hence the defense will likewise use members to discredit the prosecution's "members."

Several of the larger outlaw motorcycle gangs within the U.S. remain in violent turf wars with their rivals. Some of the gangs have taken a very strict approach toward gaining respect and power. Many outlaw motorcycle gang leaders believe that the larger the organization, the greater the power of the organization, so several gangs are growing and expanding rapidly.

Members who were once content and comfortable in a group that didn't require criminal activity are now being surrounded by younger and newer members who don't hesitate to engage in violent criminal acts to further the criminal interests of their gang. Many of the older members are leaving the gangs to protect themselves and avoid incarceration.

These members often commit crimes to further the objectives of the motorcycle gang, and also to enhance their own position within the gang. Many patches have been sewn onto a set of cuts as the direct result of a criminal act which was committed by an individual wanting to gain the "power of the patch."

It's not against the law to be a gang member. Therefore, officers should have a good reason to stop members of a gang not because they're gang members, but because they violated the law. This has gotten officers in trouble, leading to reprimands, internal complaints, and in extreme cases lawsuits.

A patch on a member's back is not probable cause for a traffic stop—a violation of the law is.

Editor's Note: About 30,000 motorcyclists participated in this year's Laughlin River Run in late April. The 2002 run was the scene of the gun battle between the Hells Angels and Mongols in Harrah's Casino.

Chuck Schoville is the training specialist for the Rocky Mountain Information Network. Prior to joining RMIN, Chuck served as a Tempe (Ariz.) Police Department officer for 26 years. He supervised the Tempe PD's Gang Unit for approximately 15 years.

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Comments (1)

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Morning Eagle @ 5/20/2011 12:02 PM

Good synopsis on these gangs. Perhaps they are only "1 percent" but the collective negative impact they have in areas they operate in is far above that seemingly minor percentage. Despite the protestations of their defense weasels they are criminals on purpose and they know they are. People with criminal proclivities, especially violent ones, but that wouldn't have the nerve to act out individually, join these groups to share in the supposed power and the relative anonymity of being part of a larger group of like-minded individuals. They attempt to adopt the "tough" persona of the group and make it their own. But when isolated from their buddies they frequently turn out not to be so 'tough' after all. They often flagrantly violate traffic laws thus providing a valid reason to stop them.

I once pursued a 'single' at very high speed that was fleeing to get back to where about 50 to 75 of his gang were camped along a river. About a half mile from camp his bike suddenly quit so he had to pull over. He was wearing all the gang paraphernalia and at first he talked tough. We were in plain sight of the camp and could see people watching us. He kept looking toward the camp as if expecting the cavalry to come roaring to his rescue. That thought crossed my mind too but not one rider left camp. When he finally figured out he was going to jail for reckless driving, no M/C endorsement, etc., he literally began to cry and beg not to be arrested, not to have his precious bike impounded, mixed with curses at his fellow gang members for not coming to his aid. We waited about a half hour for a tow truck to arrive and none of his "friends" even ventured out to see what was going on. In his view he had been left hanging and he was very disillusioned, promising to go forth and mend his ways if I would just let him go. Of course they are not all that way but there are weak links than can be exploited by unrelenting police pressure.

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