Gang members today think tactically, and they practice. This is especially true if they are in custody where they have a lot of time to perfect the skills they need to kill you and other enemies. They learn martial arts skills, ambush techniques, and the use of your lag time in a blitz attack.
They think tactically, so you must think tactically. Every contact could become violent and you have to be prepared to react and know in advance how you will react.
Think possible ambush as you approach gang members. Remember they always have the home fi eld advantage.
Watch your "six" and your partner's back as well, and give yourself an escape route. Th ink about possible cover and concealment as you move. This is not paranoia. This is being tactically smart.
This is staying alive.
Look for subtle differences in the reactions of the gang members themselves to your approach. Not every gang member wants to get involved in assaulting a police officer. If something is up, weaker
gang members will seem unusually nervous as you make contact. They will be scanning the area for escape routes, or they may stare at the ground. These homeboys will remain unusually quiet and will avoid eye contact. Th e predatory gang members involved in planning officer assaults will be more confrontational and will fix their eyes on you.
Even if gang members aren't planning to attack you, when you contact them, they may do so. Th e behavior of a gang member can be very unpredictable. Remember, they may be under the influence of drugs, alcohol, and/or pack or mob mentality. Gang members tend to act differently, more aggressively, when they are in the company of their homeboys.
And don't think that because a gang member is the smallest or youngest-looking guy in the pack that he isn't dangerous. The FBI report noted that the researchers were shocked and "...did not realize how cold blooded the younger generation of offender is."
Older street combat veteran or "veterano" gang members will tell you that "nothing is more dangerous than a 15-year-old gang member with a shotgun." They have no concept of consequences for their actions. Their experience with death is commonly on TV or in a video game.
Finally, believe a gang member's street rep. Beware of gang members who have been nicknamed by their homeboys with monikers like "Killer," "Matone," "Sniper," "Psycho," or "Scarface." They were given those monikers for some reason.
Many gang members "earned their bones" early in their criminal careers and have never been identified in the numerous unsolved drive-by shootings or even murders they were involved in. Among the Hispanic gang members the kids have become "más locos" or "more crazy" and quicker to resort to the kind of violence that was once taboo, even among the gangs.
Not long ago, gang members recognized rules against shooting cops, kids, and the elderly or victimizing people at church, funerals, or in the company of their family members. Now those rules are ignored. In recent years, "Offenders [have] typically displayed no moral or ethical restraints in using firearms," according to the FBI.
In the year 2006, 52 officers were killed by gunfire and only one was stabbed to death. But guns and knives are not the only weapons employed by gang members against the police. If you read the officer-involved shooting scenarios as often as I do, you will note the growing regularity of gang members using cars and trucks as potential lethal weapons against officers. Th is is complicated by the "geniuses" in city and county government that forbid the shooting of suspects in moving vehicles. In 2006, 45 officers were killed in auto accidents, but 15 officers died from being struck by motor vehicles.
Before I retired in 2004, the arson explosives unit reported an alarming increase in the use of pipe bombs and other explosive devices by gang members. Seven such devices were recovered from one location in East Los Angeles alone.
Outlaw motorcycle gang members seem to be the most common builders and users of pipe bombs. However, as the unsophisticated "Trench Coat Mafia" gang in Columbine demonstrated, the information to build these IEDs is available from written material like the "Anarchist Cookbook" and from many other sources on the Internet. Th e devices in Columbine were "gas enhanced" devices that only partially exploded. Had the propane tanks attached to the IEDs properly ruptured, the death and damage would have been much greater.
Twenty years ago it was very rare to recover military explosive devices in gang raids, but today it is not uncommon. My team recovered a kilo block of military C-4 in a PCP lab in the city of Compton a few years ago. Gang members returning from the Middle East will continue to bring back these devices.
In 2002 an informant identified a Vago OMG bomb factory in Norwalk, Calif. Th e raid that followed resulted in the seizure of several explosive devices and homemade silencers. Homeland Security forces even showed up to examine the workshop. Unfortunately, this kind of seizure will be more common in the future.
In the Wolf's Den
They may look like familiar neighborhood kids, almost laughable, stupid, and disorganized to you. But when you confront them in the field you are like a sheepdog in the wolf's den.
Please remember that gangs are more dangerous than most independent criminals because they work against you as a team. They outnumber you. Some member of the group is usually armed, or they have a gun hidden within reach. They have a mob or pack mentality. They are experienced in combat and often killers already.
Watch for distractions. Don't let them surprise you. Don't let them get the tactical advantage.
Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff 's Department in 2004. He has more than 25 years of experience in anti-gang operations and is a noted authority on street and prison gangs and their cultures. He serves on the advisory boards of POLICE Magazine and TREXPO.