Dismantling a Youth Gang

While working as an armed probation officer and investigator in Westchester County, N.Y., it became clear to me that criminal youth gangs were active and operating under the noses of the authorities in my jurisdiction.

While working as an armed probation officer and investigator in Westchester County, N.Y., it became clear to me that criminal youth gangs were active and operating under the noses of the authorities in my jurisdiction.

My observations came in the spring of 1990, during my five-year assignment with the New York State Family Court Unit. My administrators initially didn't believe these observations, and told me, "Youth gangs do not exist." I began documenting my observations.

These juvenile delinquents smoked marijuana cigars known as "blunts" in plain view because the casual observer thought they only saw the youths smoking cigars.

In addition to smoking dope, individual juveniles drank beer from bottles that were wrapped in a brown paper bag. Unlike most common street gangs, they rarely shared the same beer bottle with other youths because everyone in the gang could afford their own bottle. They also brazenly consumed prescription pills of all sorts that were hidden inside containers of familiar candies, such as M&M's. Visitors often smuggled illegal prescription pills into the state's former Division for Youth Detention facility.

The young delinquents were often engaged in gang-like activities such as participating in signature graffiti (tagging), wearing specific colored clothing, performing the same greeting rituals, and engaging in the same initiations. They also used violent intimidation tactics and were often arrested together for the same crimes.

These juvenile delinquents rode bicycles and always carried pagers. They traveled on trains with their bicycles, got off at random stops, and spray painted their graffiti at the various train stations so it could be better seen by passengers. A crime often would occur after their initial "recon" in a neighborhood.

The local police weren't able to connect the activity of these juvenile delinquents in a specific area, their tagging of the location, and their subsequent crimes. I later learned that these juvenile delinquents would sell this information to middle men (known as "fences"). These middle men would travel to the designated area (marked with a specific signature graffiti or tags) commit a crime such as burglary, and board the return train with their stolen goods.

I noticed that the crimes were generally timed to the train schedule. The mini-crime spree would start and end with the times of arriving and departing trains.

I began collecting detailed youth gang intelligence data that included their crimes, gang monikers, alias names, places of birth, names of relatives, gang geographical boundaries, prior addresses, membership status, women, children, hobbies such as chess, sports such as basketball, music, favorite drug (such as "Tango & Cash"), favorite brand of booze, favorite entertainment (such as strip clubs), favorite foods (such as "only eats at McDonald's"), clothing styles (such as "wears XXXXL"), criminal friends (subjects well known to the PD), and criminal family members.

This data would then be used to identify the areas familiar to and frequented by these gang members. Their specific signature graffiti or tags were then identified. This information would be cross-checked against the local train schedules to identify the most likely suspects. This program proved to be effective and resulted in numerous juvenile delinquent gang members being charged with criminal activity.

When discussing the intimidation tactics and violence of gangs during the 1990s, you must consider the crack-cocaine epidemic, and the invasion of the Caribbean gangs. One gang tactic that this era also brought to light was that the older gang members were using the younger gang members to transport weapons, drugs, and money.

The New York Family Court Law of this era would only sentence a convicted juvenile delinquent to a "maximum detention disposition" of 18 months. Stopping the gang's supply of juvenile delinquents would certainly qualify you for a death threat from the gang as a peace officer.

I received many of these gang death threats, including two separate "voodoo chicken" death threats. The chicken threats began when I stopped the supply of juvenile delinquents working for a particular Caribbean drug posse.

The posse left me an altar formed from a pile of dirt with a more than 3-foot bloody rooster with all of his feathers. Alcohol was sprinkled on this sacrifice, and some pennies were scattered along with some of my personal items that had been stolen from my on-duty/off-duty registered vehicle.

Another gang threat that showed up was a silver-tip, .380-caliber bullet left outside my apartment door. This was unusual because my apartment was inside a supposedly secure building. On another occasion, someone broke into my apartment and trashed everything inside that was law enforcement related. Everything else was relatively untouched. Fortunately, I didn't keep my firearms or other police equipment in my apartment.

In the end, it was the careful observation and documentation of the gang members' activities, and the detailed gang intelligence data that was recorded that made the difference in these cases. These were the vital tools that proved so effective in the dismantling of these juvenile delinquent youth gangs. Through inter-agency cooperation, and lots diligent police work, this Caribbean drug posse was eventually stopped.

Keoni May is a retired Westchester County, N.Y., probation officer and investigator.

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