The best laid plans and tactics often fall apart after the first shots are fired. However, learning what has worked well against your enemy in the past, listening to the advice of veterans, and participating in practical tactical training that includes repeated realistic practice, will give you that tactical edge in combat. This applies not only to soldiers and cops, but to gang members as well.

The warrior mindset written about by Jeff Cooper, Massad Ayoob, Loren Christensen, Dave Grossman, and others cannot be over emphasized. The will to survive and kill your attacker is better served by making up your mind about it now, not when the firefight begins.

And remember, the average gang member, and especially the gang veteran, is often more prepared for this confrontation then the average officer. So he has many advantages going into the fight.

The gang lifestyle is a warrior culture. This culture honors the warrior who kills the enemy. Unlike the law enforcement culture, gangs rarely consider shooting policies, civil liability, force restrictions, collateral damage, or rules of engagement. The average U.S. gang member on the street has probably experienced physical combat many times. Maybe he has been stabbed or shot, at least shot at many times. He naturally expects this to happen. He is respected by his peers for having survived these encounters and for having inflicted damage on the enemy.

The gang member usually is more experienced in killing than any law enforcement officer. Ask yourself, how many of us have actually had to take a person's life in the line of duty? Now ask, how many gang members have taken someone's life in "the line of duty?" This is true, especially in the case of career criminals and prison gang members; most have numerous "hits" under their belt. And most neophyte gangsters enroll very early in the training system for gangs. They study and train under the authority of O.G. or Veterano experts, and they practice proven tactics over and over again.

For gang members, grammar school is Juvenile Hall, high school is youth authority, and prison is a university. Other gangsters in these institutions teach them all they need to know about being a gangster. In custody environments, they learn how to make and use weapons, how to create diversions, how to attack the vulnerable parts of an enemy's body, and how to work in teams. Oh, yeah, they learn how to work together. After all, that's what gang members are good at. And this training is not to be taken lightly. Veteran gang members are very critical of lazy and careless team members.

Gang tactics emphasize teamwork. Like the military's five-man basic combat fire team, gang members utilize a basic three-man team on any hit or armed robbery. The basic parts are: the "Eye" or lookout ("trucha" in gang Calo), the designated "Hitman," and the "Lay Off Man" or "Pipe Man". If you want to see an excellent dramatization of how this works watch the Tom Selleck prison movie "An Innocent Man."

The Eye fixes the position of the target and reports the presence of rival gang members. In the planning for the action, sometimes mock incidents are staged to determine response times. For example, in a prison, he studies the staff and schedules to determine where and when and on whose watch the hit will happen.

During a prison or street hit, the Eye is like the conductor at a musical concert. He watches the cops, guards, other inmates, etc; he times the diversions; and he signals the Hitman when it is time to move. He also directs the movement of the various players and warns the Hitman should the staff or cops approach. On the street the Eye is sometimes the getaway driver.

In gang school (jails and prisons), there are no darkened back alleys to practice or perform a hit in secret. In fact, there is rarely a location that is not full of potential witnesses. There are prison guards walking around and armed guards in towers and on the rails with assault rifles. So the establishment of a tactical diversion is often employed.

A staged fight or accident directs the prison staff away from the real action. This practice is also often carried out to the street. Look for a diversion as a signal for the attack.

Like I said before, gangs are warrior cultures and blood is often the price of success. Consequently, most gang members are expected to take the role of Hitman some time in their life as a gangster. This is why you will find that sometimes the Hitman is a younger, less-experienced gang member who is "putting in work" for the gang in the form of on-the-job training to "make his bones."

A specific Hitman is often chosen for a specific target because of his familiarity with the intended victim and his ability to approach the target without suspicion. Perhaps the victim is the Hitman's friend or fellow gang member.

This is an important point. A gang member's ultimate loyalty is not to his friends or family, but to his gang. I have been involved in several gang investigations involving brothers killing brothers or gang members killing other members of their own families. Sometimes this is the consequence of the one gang member "sponsoring" or "raising his hand" for his brother, who later brings shame to the gang. (This is depicted in the movie "American Me.")

Gang hitmen have to know how to attack suddenly and with great violence. After all, the victim may also be armed and could kill the Hitman in a fight. In prison, the Hitman also knows that the gun tower guard could try to kill him to stop the hit. Still, he readily accepts these risks.

In a prison hit, the Hitman does not normally carry the weapon to the scene. This would risk both the Hitman and his valuable weapon. So the weapon will be planted at the scene or carried in by another inmate. This weapon carrier is often a non-gang member and apparently "harmless" inmate who owes the gang somehow and is pressured into service.

The weapon's disappearance after following a prison hit is also part of the plan. You will find that this vanishing weapons act is sometimes practiced outside of the custody environment. Ever stop a car full of suspects who match the description of shooters only to find no weapons in the vehicle?

The third member of this team is the Lay Off man. He is usually a more experienced gang member who has been tried in battle. Often, as his name implies, he lays in wait just out of the kill zone. His job is to watch the Hitman and make sure that he does his job correctly. The Lay Off Man is not to get involved unless the Hitman gets in trouble.

In prison, the Lay Off Man is sometimes armed with a sap made from a sock with flashlight batteries or a pipe. The Lay Off Man will use this heavy stunning weapon if the victim is also armed and fights back. Once the Lay Off Man blind sides the victim, the Hitman can finish the job.

On a city street, the Lay Off Man will often enter the area early and park just outside of the kill zone in an old heavy truck or very ungang-looking sedan. But on the street, he isn't carrying a pipe or sap. On the street, his heavy stunning weapon will be a shotgun or AK-47.

This is a very important thing for you to know: One of the Lay Off Man's duties on the street is to stop the responding police elements if they arrive before the hit is completed. He sometimes uses the truck or heavy sedan as a ram. Beware the Lay Off Man. His sudden blind side attack is potentially the greatest danger to responding police.

After a hit on a prison yard, all the inmates involved in the diversions, the three-man hit team, and other inmates will mix together and shed bloody clothing before going prone on the yard. This makes positive identification by prison staff difficult and blood and DNA evidence hard to tie to anyone.

After a street hit, look for two or three vehicles fleeing the shooting scene; the Eye and the Hitman, the Lay Off Man, and a weapons carrier.

A recent FBI study found that most would-be cop killers: practice with firearms more often, shoot more accurately, have no hesitation whatsoever about pulling the trigger, and have more experience using deadly force than police officers.

Use your peripheral vision when responding to shootings or robberies in progress. While searching for the Hitman, remember to look out for the Eye, and the Lay Off Man. Knowing what to look for could save you from a deadly ambush.

Author

Richard Valdemar
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.

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

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