FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Autonomous Robots Prevent Crime

Ask The Expert

Stacy Dean Stephens

VP Marketing & Sales

Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

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

Sureños: Understanding Kanpol and Pilli

The soldiers of the Mexican Mafia prison gang identify themselves with various levels of sophistication.

March 14, 2012  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Just what is a Sureño? A Sureño is a Latino gang member who belongs to a street gang that identifies with, and is subservient to, the Mexican Mafia. He may be from northern or southern California, or from your city, or from Central America. Sureños identify with the color blue and use tattoos with the number 13, sureño, sur, south sider, or "kanpol" (a word taken from the ancient Aztec language of Nahuatl that means southerner). In this culture, the number 13 was expressed with the symbol (see above picture).

The Nahuatl word "pilli" can be translated as "señor" or sir, but is more correctly noble man or royalty. This is term used by Sureño gang members to refer to actual made members of the Mexican Mafia. The subtle differences these Nahuatl terms convey can help you understand how the huge Sureño army is controlled by the Mexican Mafia.

The terms are similar to those used during the American Civil War. At that time, southerner meant more than just a person from the southern portion of the U.S. It also conveyed that the person supported the rebellion, slavery, and war with the Union forces. A northerner supported the Union, the freeing of slaves, and the Union army.

When a gang member identifies himself as a Sureño either verbally or by clothing or tattoos, he escalates his position from a mere Latino gang member to a soldier in the service of the murderous Mexican Mafia. This is what kanpol is meant to convey.

When pilli is used to identify an Eme member, it signifies that he's held in high regard. He's considered a noble man or royalty lording over the kanpol (common soldier) army. Initially, the Mexican Mafia's ambition was simply to control the DVI facility. Later, they warred to control the California prison system, and then the federal prison system. Today, they covet control of the southwest and the entire nation. They plan to do with their growing kanpol army.

How do you measure the danger posed by your local Sur 13, South Side, or Sureño gangs? Their level of sophistication will tell you. Talk to them. Do they use the terms pilli or kanpol? Do they identify themselves as a Sureño? Have they tattooed Southside, Sur or Sureño on their body? Are they "piasas" (a person from Mexico) or are they from Central America?

The most dangerous Sureños are hard-core California gang members who have done prison time and have been indoctrinated in the schooling system of their master (pilli). The second type of Sureños are converted local Latino gang members who emulate the Sureño gang style, even if they've never been to California. Some of them are still dedicated enough to act just like kanpol soldiers.

Following the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, Sureños locked up in Nevada and Arizona jails and prisons rioted and attacked blacks on orders originating in the Los Angeles County jail. During the Los Angeles Mexican Mafia RICO investigations (1995-'99), we learned from gang informants that the Mexican Mafia was running Sureño gang meetings in Phoenix parks.

I've read that these local Sureño converts are not real Sureños because they don't pay taxes or follow all the Mexican Mafia edicts. Many gangs in Los Angeles aren't taxed as they were in 1995. The amount of tax depends on which Mexican Mafia member controls the turf. Some Eme members only tax drug dealers and not the Sureño gangs themselves. Many unsophisticated young gang members deny that their gang takes orders or is taxed by the Mexican Mafia, even in Los Angeles, but the truth is that they do. So if your 15-year-old local Southsider says his gang doesn't pay taxes, he may be right or may not know. That's not the measure of his loyalty.

I've heard so-called experts say that MS-13 and 18th Street gang members are not really Sureños, because they don't pay Eme taxes in some states. On their mother turf, I've personally witnessed them paying taxes many times and booked the many thousands of dollars of "tax" money into federal evidence.

The further away from California that Sureño gangs are, the more autonomy they exercise. This is because they're on the frontier outposts of the Eme's control. The MS-13 "Mara" in El Salvador may act independently, but when they find themselves in the U.S. facing federal prison or state commitments in facilities controlled by Sureños they tow the Sureño line and follow the Sureño "reglas" or rules.

By far, the strangest Sureños are Mexican born or Central American Sureños. These piasas Sureños are under the influence of the American Sureño gangs that operate on the border and facilitate human smuggling. During their odyssey from their native land to the U.S., they have adopted the style of the Sureño gangs that transported them.

There are also a few Sureño gangs that have been spawned in Mexico, but most of the illegal-immigrant Sureños have never heard of kanpol or pilli. They have never been to California, and really don't get what the Norteño and Sureño war is all about. Don't judge your Sureños by these gang members.

Kanpol Sureño gang members will become more sophisticated with time. Their codes of conduct and rules of engagement will be more regulated and controlled by their pilli prison-gang heavyweights in California's Pelican Bay State Prison and at ADX Florence supermax prison in Colorado. Don't underestimate them.


Do You Speak Nahuatl?

Previous Page   Page 2 of 2   Next Page

Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Gabe Morales @ 3/31/2012 9:06 AM

Great article Richard! I always read your stories on

michael @ 5/11/2012 8:09 AM

Very interesting article. I love police stories and Mexican Mafia guys are really tough and fearless. They normally got a bunch of <a href="">matching tattoos</a> on their body and once you see them, you'll know that they are part of the gang.

J.j @ 2/10/2017 10:58 PM

I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles in Downey CA so I pretty much know what you're trying to say but you got your facts wrong it's cute how you're trying to explain something you've only heard and read about and yes studied about but no offense you don't really know till you've lived in it or around it by the way they're just human like us no need to glorify them they bleed and die like you and me

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Balancing Privacy Rights and Facial Recognition Technology for Police
Disruptive technologies present challenges for everyone — police administrators included....
Living with PTSD: Your Life Means Something
There will be times that you are going to want to give up — you may even want to try to...

Police Magazine