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Identifying and Documenting Gang Members

Extract as much information as you can from contact with gang members.

September 23, 2010  |  by Matthew O' Deane and William Patrick Murphy

Names and Numbers

When conducting a field interview of a gang member, you will find that many will pretend to be ignorant of the English language and many others will lie about their name (shocking, I know). But savvy officers can usually suss this out if they're persistent enough.

Many gang members of Hispanic decent, for example, use two last names, a Spanish concept involving the use of paternal and maternal last names. For instance, the name Juan Manuel Garcia-Flores is composed of four elements: Juan is the first name, Manuel is the middle name, Garcia is the paternal last name and the legal name, and Flores is the maternal last name. The names are traditionally joined by a hyphen, the conjunction Y, or by nothing. It is important to recognize both last names and record them accurately in criminal records.

Failure to properly document an individual by his or her last name will likely result in confusion. Sophisticated offenders are aware of this confusion and will attempt to hinder law enforcement, especially when dealing with Hispanic and Asian gangs, when in fact most know enough to realize what is being said and what actions are about to be taken. They will profess their innocence, frequently using the phrases "No problem," or "No entiendo," hoping to make the officer lose interest or record the false information.

Take time to investigate and record the correct moniker. Does he have an address book on his person with gang names on it that can tell you his moniker and the monikers of his companions? Does he have graffiti on his hat, belt, shoes, etc., that may tell you his moniker?

If a subject is carrying an address book containing phone numbers and monikers, take the time to record that information for gang investigators. Many times the gang members will have personal photos in their wallet, maybe of friends and family. It has been beneficial to look at the backs of the photos and read any personal messages that may be addressed to a specific moniker. The reality is that when many gang crimes occur the victims may know only that it was "Speedy" or "Flaco" who was responsible; they won't know the person's real name. Therefore, obtaining a moniker is very important.

Phone numbers are also critical. And don't forget to always include the area code. Get the cell number of any cell phones on the subject's person. If possible, review the numbers that have been called recently and make note of the service provider. All of this may become very important in gang investigations at a later time.

Photo Ops

An essential part of your contact with any gang member is taking a photograph of the subject. Photographs are critical to the gang documentation process, so make sure you take them under the right conditions.

First of all, there are legal issues that you must be aware of when photographing subjects during field interview contacts.

The photograph you take may be used to identify the person as a suspect in a serious case down the road and can be a decisive factor in court. A photograph obtained as a result of an illegal detention can be suppressed in court, as will (probably) any identification made of the suspect by the victims and witnesses utilizing this photograph.

However, a person who exposes his or her facial features, and/or body in general, to the public, in a public place, has no reasonable expectation of privacy in appearance. It is not therefore a constitutional violation to photograph the person. Basically, you can photograph a subject during a field interview situation if the subject gives consent or if the photograph is obtained during a lawful detention.

Take a good quality photograph. Start off by using a good quality camera. Then be sure to use a high-resolution setting. The photograph should be taken against a light-colored background and should show the subject from mid-chest up, or from the same distance each time for consistency. Instruct people to remove hats and glasses, look straight ahead, and not smile. If the subject is wearing a hat or glasses, you can take a photograph with and without the items if clothing is going to be an identifying issue; if so you may want to take a full-length head-to-toe photograph as well.

Leave enough extra space above the head (approximately a half-inch on the photo) to allow for adjustments in a photographic line-up folder if you use those. If the photo is taken too close the subject's face will not fit properly in a line-up folder, and if the photo is taken too far away the face will be too small. If you use an automated photo line-up program, using a digital camera saves time and effort and eliminates the need to scan photos before using them in the line-up.

If you can, take a group shot of all the home boys throwing up gang signs all gathered in a group. This is great evidence down the road when the gangster says that he or she is not a gang member. We have usually gotten groups to allow me to take their photo by telling them they can have a copy for them to keep. You keep the investigative copy and then give the group one or two copies depending upon your film supply.

In one instance we took a digital photo of a group of Asian gang members and actually got two of the five in the group to give up their e-mail addresses so we could send them copies of the photo, which we did. Many times the photos they walk away with will be found during a probation or parole search down the road by the next officer who encounters the gang members.

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

montereykidd @ 10/3/2010 10:28 AM

Is suppression the best answer? Looks like the cities in Monterey County are increasing their suppression efforts.

Jessica @ 5/16/2015 11:30 AM

So, as a gang memeber you can be held liable for the actions of someone else within your gang...That does not sound 100% to me. Example as to why. "I am a documented gang memeber of south east san diego...I currently live out of state...I have graduated college and currently in my career (I am no longer an active gang memeber). I can be held liable for the crime of someone else?...Pulled from my job and "convicted" of a crime I did not commit, I was not even in town when this happened. In the process of this, I lost my career and professional relationships because of someone I might have known." All because of this "gang documentation list." Is this what goes along with the documenting of minorities with in a particular community?

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