Southeast Asia street gangs are making their mark on the gang subculture.
The Southeast Asian street gang is a fairly new threat on the gang battlefield. Their presence was first noted by law enforcement officials in Southern California in the late 1970s, and their numbers and level of violence have been on the rise ever since.
Often, the stylized dress, tattoos, graffiti, hand signs, slang, stylized haircuts and jewelry used by other street gangs are also used by their Southeast Asian counterparts. But law enforcement officers have noticed a trend that started among the Southeast Asian gang community-burns and scars on the arms and hands. Displaying these body modifications or inflicting them in the presence of other gang members gives the wearer instant respect among his or her peers. The marks also serve as a kind of silent advertisement to the rest of the population. Without saying a word, a person wearing these marks or tattoos can walk into a cafe or restaurant and intimidate the owner into providing free food or paying for protection.
Another unique characteristic of Southeast Asian street gangs is that they do not claim turf in the traditional sense. Gangsters will frequent a particular cafe or billiard parlor. These gangs are referred to by law enforcement as nomadic criminal enterprises. They are mobile and will travel to make a buck. And they often have an informal network of contacts throughout the United States, including Alaska. Using these contacts, gang members may be able to commit a home invasion robbery in Los Angeles in the afternoon and be in Houston later that night. With no turf to protect, they are free to travel anywhere.
Because of their mobility, gang members have become adept at using the "crash pad," normally a motel room rented by one person and then used by the entire gang. It is not uncommon to find 12 to 15 gang members resting, sleeping, eating or dividing the loot from a recent burglary or home invasion robbery in a single motel room. Crash pads can also be rented homes or apartments that are used by gang members until they are discovered by the police or evicted.
A crash pad serves as a clubhouse for gang members and a central location where crimes can be planned. Look for and examine vehicles parked near and in front of the suspected crash pad. Stolen vehicles used in crimes are often cold-plated and driven to the crash pad location. Vehicle and foot traffic is likely to be high. Pads normally start to get active in the early evening hours. Don't expect to find activity at 10 a.m.: these are night folks.
Law enforcers are quick to pick up the hidden signals of gang clothing. Traditional Western street gangs have long used clothing style as a nonverbal way of communicating who is the home team and who are the visitors. However, Southeast Asian street gangs also use some additional gang clothing styles, many do not. It is not uncommon to talk with gang members who are dressed in a conservative fashion or nightclub attire. So clothing should not be the only reason you stop someone, and it should not be the only reason to discount gang membership.
Violence on the Rise
Violence within the street gang culture is common and has been on the rise for years. What is unique to Southeast Asian street gangs, however, is their use of violence as a tool. Violence in the form of torture is used during home invasion robberies to convince victims to reveal the location of money and jewelry.
Today, violence is a part of everyday life for gangsters.
The recent trend has been violent home invasion robberies in which victims are often shot and killed. During a robbery late last year in San Bernardino County, Calif., an entire family of five was shot. The only survivor was a 3year-old boy.
With this level of violence, you can expect assaults on law enforcement officials to increase. Many aspects of Western gang life have trickled down to the relatively new Southeast Asian street gangs. We have seen gangs share clothing styles, tattoos and graffiti, and we can expect the same distrust and hatred of law enforcement. Approximately 72 percent of all homicides are committed with some type of gun. And according to the FBI, about 72 percent of all law enforcement deaths involve a gun. The ultimate symbol of power and control for any gang member is the gun.
Southeast Asian gangsters have some specialty crimes they seem to favor. In fact, they have become so good at crimes like home invasion robberies that many other street gangs mimic them.
This type of robbery is planned and well executed. Don't be surprised to find out that your entry team was covered by gang members who were outside listening to a police scanner. If the police start to respond, the lookout will page the team on the inside to alert them.
With the sophisticated computers of today, fraudulent credit card and check manufacture are also on the rise. Southeast Asian street gangs again have cornered the market.
Be on the lookout for security features used by major credit card companies. If you shine a black light on a genuine credit card, a fluorescent image or letter will show up. And sometimes there is fine printing around the logos. Visa card account numbers all start with 4, and Mastercard account numbers start with 5. It's a good idea to ask for multiple IDs.
Routine traffic stops could potentially turn into the break needed to bust open credit card or counterfeit check rings. Computer equipment, encoding software and hardware, letter embossing equipment, special paper and metal foils are all used in counterfeiting credit cards. If in plain view, these items could be seized.
Drug sales, robberies, burglaries and white-collar crimes such as insurance, check and credit card fraud are common. Gang members believe there is less chance of getting caught for these types of crimes because police tend to focus more on violent crime.
Southeast Asian street gangs have been known to specialize in residential burglaries. And if they enter a home and find it to be occupied, the residential burglary quickly turns into a home invasion robbery.
Be careul when responding to incomplete 9-1-1 calls from residences. Victims are often able to start a 9-1-1 call but are stopped by an intruder. Be cautious if you make contact. There have been documented instances of suspects answering the door pretending to be the residents. Officers have been fired upon as they approach the home or when they are confronted by an armed gang member at the door.
For the most part, the victims of Southeast Asian street crime are Southeast Asians. Take-over robberies of businesses are also common. When these occur, the entire working staff is at risk. Often small children or family members are taken hostage in order to force the owner to cooperate.
Be on the Lookout
When stopping a vehicle, always, be sure you have legal justification to do so. In many jurisdictions, law enforcement officials are coming under fire for detaining and photographing young Southeast Asians. The community has asserted that race, age and clothing style are becoming the sole basis for the stops. Be sure to follow your department policies regarding detentions and photographs.
When you do contact a vehicle with suspected gang members inside, be alert for warning signals. If you find hand-held cell telephones, ask to check their status. Look for the serial number to see if it has been removed or altered. Contact your local cell telephone security representative to find out how to check the electronic serial number to determine if the telephone has been cloned. The presence of a police scanner is a sure clue.
Since these groups are mobile, the presence of street maps and/or motel receipts may aid in determining if you are dealing with a local or visiting group. Duct tape, gloves or socks in the car may also help determine if you are possibly contacting a home invasion robbery or burglary team. Also look for local white page telephone books. Sometimes gang members will highlight the names of potential victims.
Check the vehicles thoroughly. Southeast Asian street gangsters are ingenious at hiding weapons in cars. This would include the engine and trunk compartments. Always check the vehicle license plate against the VIN number.
No matter what type of gang you are investigating, the most important thing to remember is to be safe.
Al Valdez is an investigator with the Orange County (Calif.) District Attorney's Office and author of the book, "Gangs.