Recently in my capacity as a reserve officer with the Arizona GIITEM (Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission) task force, I worked the 28th annual Laughlin River Run. Every year thousands of motorcycle riders from across the country come to Laughlin, Nev., and neighboring cities to celebrate the freedom of motorcycling.

Among the crowds of bikers and their beautiful machines one can find enthusiasts from almost every walk of life. Grandmas and grandpas on Gold Wings ride with youthful bikers on sportsters and "rice rockets." My parish Priest, Father Charlie, even got in the spirit this year riding a trike and wearing a "do-rag" and an "evil clown" t-shirt. The intention here is for everyone to have a good time.

Unfortunately, the River Run also draws the criminal and outlaw biker element. Drugs, alcohol, and motorcycles can be a deadly combination. In 2002 the River Run was ruined when two outlaw motorcycle gangs, the Hells Angels and the Mongols, rumbled in Harrah's Casino in a wild riot and shootout. In the aftermath three bikers lay dead and at least 16 others were injured.

This year I noticed a growing trend of Hispanic "Cholo like" bikers mixing the look of lowriders with the traditional outlaw biker look. The major three-piece-patched one-percenters-such as Hells Angels, Vagos, Mongols, Outlaws-were also there along with numerous other smaller gangs. Many of the large outlaw motorcycle gangs also have "puppet clubs" made up of supporters who wish to "patch over" to the mother club someday.

My partner, Jeff Viles of the Bullhead (Ariz.) Police Department, and I made numerous stops of multiple identified biker gang members. This is tricky business and many of the stops were well-coordinated multiple unit operations requiring two or three other team units.

In one of these traffic stops we pulled over six bikes and their operators. All of them wore "cuts" with three piece patches claiming "Sons of Hell" from Yuma, Ariz. The Sons of Hell is a "puppet club" and a support club for the Hell Angels outlaw motorcycle gang.

The traffic stop went smoothly enough, and the bikers and their female passengers were polite and cooperative. But in talking to one of the Sons of Hell we learned that he was an ex-Marine and worked as a law enforcement intake officer at the Yuma detention facility.

I would like to tell you that this is a rare situation but it is not so unusual anymore. It is becoming a growing problem, current and retired police officers running with gangs and gang members. The entire nation suffers from this wannabe delusion that outlaw bikers are some kind of anti-heroes, rebels, and today's cowboys. This image is promoted by the gang's toy runs and on fictional TV programs like "Sons of Anarchy."

What are these cops thinking? Don't they realize that they are being used by the gang? Can't they see that should their gang friends become engaged in a violent situation (which is inevitable) there can be no good outcome for the badged members and associates?

This phenomenon of cops identifying with gangs can be seen most shockingly in the cop motorcycle clubs who dress and act like the outlaw motorcycle gangs and even ride and party with one-percenters on biker runs. These cops are experiencing a serious identity crisis, and it seems to be more prevalent among corrections officers and officers working custody division.

But even crude street gang influences can also manifest in some police officers. Cops who got off duty jobs moonlighting as security for rich and famous athletes, movie stars and rap music celebrities sometimes get accustomed to the high life they cannot afford. Some are exposed to the lifestyle of booze, drugs, and loose women and get tainted. This often puts them in awkward situations of having to ignore immoral and illegal behavior. This constant compromise with ethics can lead to trouble. Some cops just joined the party.

Take a look at photographs of officers Rafael Perez and David Mackey of the notorious LAPD Rampart CRASH gang unit scandal. These two "gang cops" were the basis for characters used in the movie "Training Day." These jerks saw themselves as gang members who were above the law. They partied with and protected the gangster scum they served and corrupted everyone around them.

Recently LAPD put out an officer safety bulletin identifying an individual who had come to light in a cross border, cartel-related incident. The flyer depicted a photograph of a Los Angeles "Avenues" gang member, who was also a U.S. Marine. The L.A. Avenues gang has a history and strong ties to the Mexican Mafia prison gang. But what was most shocking was the fact that the subject was also a member of a California law enforcement agency before he was terminated.

Today's street, prison, and biker gangs are like the outlaw bandit gangs of the 1920s and '30s. As they become more criminally sophisticated and financially successful, they will become entrenched organized criminal groups. Like the Italian mafia in the 1930s, they will corrupt local politicians and the police.

Ask yourself this very important question: By the way you dress and act are you sending signals that you are for sale?

Today I see some cops adopting gang-like clothing, getting gang-like tattoos, and talking to one another in gang-like slang. If you are having this kind of identity crisis, do me a favor and take a look at yourself in the mirror. Would your parents approve of your style? Does the way you look frighten small children? Are your own kids embarrassed by the way you look? Make up your mind, you cannot serve two masters. Are you going to choose to wear a white hat or a black one?

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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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