Field Interviews During Gang Stops

Whether I was recovering a weapon, apprehending a wanted gangster, documenting an association between gangsters, interrupting a drive-by shooting or gang fight, recording a gang member at a specific time, place and location, or developing rapport, they were all fruitful.

Lou Savelli Web2 Headshot

Any gang investigator worth their badge will tell you, "Whether you're in the streets or down a cell block, when it comes to conducting field interviews with gangsters, you'll probably be outnumbered most of the time."

On a busy street corner in your city or town's gang turf, gangsters seldom travel or hang out alone. And the cell block in your prison or jail, besides being home turf for several gangs, will be home to other criminals who just don't like C.O.P.S.

My definition of the acronym, C.O.P.S., is Corrections, Officers like Probation and Parole, Police and Federal Agents, and Sheriffs.

Gang stops, for the purpose of conducting a field interview, are vital and necessary. While conducting hundreds, if not thousands, of gang stops, I recall that each stop was productive.

Whether I was recovering a weapon, apprehending a wanted gangster, documenting an association between gangsters, interrupting a drive-by shooting or gang fight, recording a gang member at a specific time, place and location, or developing rapport, they were all fruitful.

In order to make your gang stop safer and conduct a more efficient field interview, a cop must follow these F.I.E.L.D. I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W. rules:

Fools, only, rush in

Involve back-up

Evaluate the situation

Look around and be alert

Distance, Demeanor, Detain

Interview, don't interrogate

Notice the body language

Take mental & written notes

Entertain your audience

Rapport must be developed

Validate your authority

Initiate an action or exit authoritatively

Effect arrest if safe and necessary

Watch what happens after you leave

Let's cover each one separately.

F: Fools, only, rush in

Elvis was right. Rushing in to any situation, regardless of the number of persons, is foolish and unsafe. For every field stop, an immediate assessment should be initiated. Visually scan the subjects of your intended stop and the surrounding area.

Determine how many subjects are involved. Determine how many gang members are present. Consider which gang is involved. Is this gang exceptionally hostile toward cops? Are they at war with another gang? Has this gang recently been involved in a crime that has come to the attention of the cops? Could they believe you're there to make an arrest or take official action?

I: Involve back-up, when necessary and possible

Truly, there's safety in numbers. Gangsters will always size you up and consider the odds of them winning a fight, especially against a cop. If you can delay making a field stop until back up arrives or there are more officers available, do it. Safety is the top priority!

E: Evaluate the situation

Remember, each situation is different. You must evaluate the necessity of the field stop, the safety factors involved (number of subjects, back-up, weapons and surroundings), the potential for violence, the gang's present state of mind, their propensity for violent behavior and your ability to safely and efficiently conduct the stop.

Making a field stop in the middle of a prison yard just after a fight between rival gangs will be risky because the gangsters are pumped up and ready to save face, even if it means attacking a cop. If the stop can't be done safely, don't do it. If your evaluation of the situation warrants a field stop, and you can do so safely, conduct the stop, but adhere to the next few rules.[PAGEBREAK]

L: Look around and be alert

Continue your alertness until you're safely away from any potential danger. With most criminals, and especially with gangsters, an attack on a cop can come from anywhere. In fact, most gangs practice officer-disarming techniques and takedowns (called "takeouts") to take out a cop, when they deem it necessary.

The Latin Kings, for example, developed a cop takedown called the "Five Point Attack" in which the gangsters discreetly surround an officer engaged in a field stop of a fellow gang member. The gangsters form a five-pointed formation, in the shape of a five-point star, around the officer. While the original gang member being interviewed maintains the officer's attention, the other gang members move in.

When everyone is in position, the officer is grabbed from the rear, then from the sides until he is taken down to the ground and disarmed. In many cases, his weapon will be used against him. Remember, always be cognizant of your surroundings and the actions of those around you. 

D: Distance, Demeanor and Detain

You should determine the distance by approaching the gangsters. If you let them approach you, you'll have to retreat a bit if the distance they choose is unsafe. Your approach will give you time and opportunity to assess the gangsters you are stopping.

Your demeanor during a stop is equally important. Conducting yourself in a guarded, professional, and ready manner will make gangsters understand that you are in control of the field stop and prepared for anything.

There are many situations, when dealing with gangsters during field stops, that it will be necessary and good procedure to physically detain the gangsters. These situations arise when the safety of the officers, and the gangsters themselves, will be increased by handcuffing those persons stopped. Such situations will include the stop of multiple gang members, the stop of gang members from rival gangs at the same location, situations in which you feel your safety is at risk or those situations in which you suspect weapons are involved or a crime has been, or is being, committed.

I: Interview, don't interrogate

Asking non-judgmental questions during a stop will keep the gangsters off guard and enable you to ascertain much information. They will not think you suspect them of any wrongdoing and continue with the interview.  This tactic also keeps a situation from elevating into a physical altercation or a foot or car chase.

N: Notice the body language

While watching the gang member you've stopped, pay attention to his body language and demeanor as possible indicators of deception. Pay extra attention to these indicators during the response to your questions.  Notice which questions seem to cause the most deceptive reactions.

Body language may be indicated by placing a hand over the mouth, eyes looking away, or keeping their arms close to their body. A person's demeanor indicating deception, or something you should be concerned with, can be actions such as distancing, unconcerned, or disconnection.

When a suspect distances himself, verbally or physically, from a person or an object it could be an indication that something illegal is afoot with the person or object. For example, when a gang member is stopped in a vehicle and he maintains an unusually far distance from his vehicle, it may indicate there is contraband in a vehicle that may also be stolen.

Overly unconcerned gang members who are playing it too cool could be hiding something and are trying to keep you from becoming suspicious.  A known gang member who disconnects himself from his gang during a field interview may be telling you something has happened that he wants to avoid being connected to. 

T: Take mental and written notes

Information you obtain during the field interview with a gangster may be of great value at a later date. It is important, especially when dealing with gangs, to document the time, date and locations of the stop as well as who was stopped and who was in their company.

Gang associations can be needed for conspiratorial investigations, or court purposes, and proves valuable at a later date. "Field stop" reports should be filed in all venues. Many RICO and conspiracy cases have proven how apparently casual associations, even in a prison setting, resulted in the decision-making processes of eventual murder contracts.[PAGEBREAK]

E: Entertain your audience

There's nothing wrong with casual conversation or entertaining quips during a field stop. In fact, such tactics have proven to be effective in keeping people off guard and passing the time when you want to delay the stop. Most gang members are not accustomed to cops speaking to them in a less than authoritative fashion or even being respectful.

R: Rapport must be developed and maintained

Developing rapport with gang members should be a continual practice.  Today's suspect or defendant is tomorrow's witness or informant. When you develop a rapport with a gang member, you're establishing a positive cop/perp relationship. Most gangsters will tell you that most cops are arrogant and disrespectful toward them. Developing rapport can be the difference between confrontational and conversational.

V: Validate your authority

When making a field stop of a gangster or group of gangsters, establish your purpose for the stop. Your opening statement should do this in one sentence or two. "Hey guys, stop! I want to talk to you!"

Stating your name to the gangsters is good practice for a couple of reasons. First, it establishes that you're no longer just a cop. They now have a name to relate to the uniform or badge and a name to remember who to call to snitch on a fellow gangster.

Secondly, it's the first step in establishing rapport. Also, it's very important when you are dealing with gangsters who do not know who you are. Gang members respect authority, expect authority to interact with them, and don't respect cops who try to fit in or act like a gangster by using language they don't use properly. Gangster lingo used by a cop, taken too far, is a sign of disrespect to a gangster and gangsters will write you off as a punk cop.

I: Initiate an action or exit authoritatively

During the field stop, there will come a time when you must take official action (such as an arrest). Whatever action you decide to take, do it tactfully and make sure you're in a position to do it effectively and safely. If you decide not to take action, make a closing statement and tell the gangsters to leave or exit the area.

E: Effect arrest if safe and necessary

Should you decide to make an arrest, make sure it can be done safely and efficiently. Have adequate back-up. When making an arrest, handcuff first, search second. You'll always want to immobilize the prisoner immediately to avoid fight and flight. When it comes to gang members, get them into a safe location and away from the scene as soon as possible.

Don't hang around and gloat over your arrest or custody — get the prisoner and yourself away from potential danger. You never know when a crowd will become hostile and attack. Whether it's on a street corner,  prison runway or recreation yard, gang members can become extremely hostile when one of their own is taken into custody. Getting away quickly is not cowardice, it's good tactics.

W: Watch what happens after you leave

When it comes to gang members, they will often test your authority.  Many times, after being dispersed, they will return back to the location.  After leaving the location, return to ascertain whether they followed your orders. If circumstances permit, and the preceding guidelines are utilized, exercise your authority and let them know you mean business.

Returning to the scene or conducting surveillance of the area could result in uncovering where a drug stash or weapon has been hidden. These things are important to the gangsters, and they must be retrieved if hidden prior to the field stop.

Most gang cops, or cops interested in investigating gangs, should be conducting several field stops each day. While the preceding tactics and techniques have been proven to work, it's important to conduct the proper safety tactics taught by your agency.

I've provided suggestions to increase the safety and efficiency of field stops on gang members, but don't attempt to replace any departmental policy. Every situation is different and the rules for field stops must be adapted to reach the utmost safety and efficiency. 

Gang work must be proactive. Reactionary law enforcement, while having its purpose in fighting crime and correctional situations, is not effective in dealing with gangs. Field stops are just one way to be proactive against gangs.

About the Author
Lou Savelli Web2 Headshot
Sergeant (Ret.)
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