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Cover Story

Working Gangs From Inside Prison

Started just over two years ago at New York's infamous Rikers Island prison, the project uses an extensive database, networking and shared assignments.

May 01, 1999  |  by Shelly Feuer Domash

An important piece of that information is gang codes. The GIU or Gang Intelligence Unit has developed a detailed breakdown of these codes. For example, the Blood will use "Attica" to mean, "attack without thinking," or "Brace Yourself," (intelligence over emotions, or don't get him now, get him later), "Mr. Window" (murder someone, "365" (everything is good), "10-10" (keep in touch). There is even a code for "I love and miss my kids"- "Flintstone."

These codes are given to GIU through confidential informants. According to Deputy Warden Bailey, they even have a code named after him, "Bailey" which means "rock someone to sleep" or "everything is right, nothing is going to happen."

Intelligence Information

In addition to documents these codes, the computer information used by the intelligence unit includes information on basic personal data, including name, gang affiliation, gang rank, date made, mannerisms, aliases, weapons, enemies, associates, warrants, prior arrests, front and side headshots and physical characteristics including photos of tattoos, scars and markings.

Designed internally, the system also tracks housing assignments, classifications, work details, movement to and from courts and visit information.

The correctional facility also keeps an inactive list that includes names and aliases for prisoners who have been released. "This is very helpful to the police department," said Bailey.

The vast database is impressive. For example, if a law enforcement agency needs information on a suspect and all it has is a certain tattoo for a suspect, the GIU can enter that information into the computer and generate names and photos of suspects.

The database is also used to assist outside agencies in other inquiries. When the NYPD was investigating a gang known as the "Selover Boys," it gave GIU an organized chart of the gang. The Narcotic Investigative Tracking of recidivist Offenders Unit (NITRO) from the NYPD was attempting to locate suspects who were wanted for numerous murders of children used to see narcotics. Of the 22 known members, GIU identified six as being in the jail's custody and thus was able to provide NITRO with detailed information as to inmate visitor and telephone activities.

Unique Environment

According to Commissioner Kerik, the jail is unique place in that it can gather information on suspects that cannot be obtained on the outside. Once a law enforcement agency arrests a suspect, whatever information it has gathered then stops, said Kerik.

"The corrections officers live with these prisoners. They see them on a daily basis. They know their colors, their identifiers. They know and understand their language and codes and their hand signals.

"They get to see things that the police and investigative bodies on the outside don't get to see because they are there 24 hours-a-day, living with these people.

"In addition to that, we have access to phenomenal information that the police department could never get without subpoenas or warrants. We can look at the phone calls that every inmate makes, so that if you care conducting an investigation, for example, on the Latin Kinds, and you have a Latin King leader in jail, and you want to find out where the hub is on the outside, we can do that through a very sophisticated telephone analysis."

Kerik is proud of what the GIU has accomplished in the past few years. "In the past there has always been a lot of data collected, but it was not put into a central place. As a result it was sitting around and nobody did anything with it. Once the gang intelligence unit was created, it blossomed."

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