Failed and Fruitful Tactics for Combating Gangs

Any teacher, preacher, lawyer, cop, psychologist, gang crime victim, good mother, or good father would be more effective in gang prevention than a dozen "ex-gang members."

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Gang Czars
The current government bureaucratic "wisdom" is to establish a centralized hierarchy, to control and combat any perceived problem. We see this in the establishment of the Homeland Security Czar, a Drug War Czar, and a Gang Czar.

Unfortunately, a czar working out of Washington, D.C. (or your state capital) will be greatly removed and detached from the real problems in your community's streets. This often results in your community's resources and taxes being given over to be used in larger or more politically important jurisdictions, and your community being ill served.

Gang Task Forces
Federal gang task forces formed by the feds and participating jurisdictions who together target local street gangs can be a good thing. They can be a good thing if the power, leadership, and decision making is pushed down to the lowest level, not up to a bureaucratic czar.

During the time I was part of the FBI's Los Angeles Metropolitan Violent Gang Task Force, we prosecuted three RICO cases (1995, 1997, and 1999) against the Mexican Mafia prison gang. The First RICO was the most successful; the last one was the least successful.

In the first and most successful RICO, leadership was largely spearheaded by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the LAPD. In the less successful RICOs, the L.A. FBI took over major control. This does not mean that the FBI agents were not good gang cops; they were just not as totally familiar with the gangs as the "locals" (as they liked to call us). Also, every decision had to be made or approved in D.C. This often became a frustration and a major investigation inhibition. This was especially irritating when MS-13 leader, Nelson Commandari, slipped through the task force's fingers during some of this FBI indecision.

Gang Programs Run by Ex-Gang Members
I don't know how many times this failed policy has to fail again (using your taxpayer dollars) before elected officials finally realize that it is a complete waste of your money. Anti-gang programs should be run by people who understand the problems of your community, but have avoided drug, crime, and gang involvement. Any teacher, preacher, lawyer, cop, psychologist, gang crime victim, good mother, or good father would be more effective in gang prevention than a dozen "ex-gang members." And there are many such good citizen community programs, but they are rarely given government financial assistance.

Gang Injuctions
In my opinion, gang injunctions are too manpower and man-hour intensive. They do not produce the anti-gang results that one good gang wire tap or probation and parole sweep might produce. They might be somewhat effective in some small communities with nascent gang problems but, in urban metropolitan areas with multiple established gangs, they are not so effective.

I fear that gang injunctions eventually produce bad case law and greater legal restrictions against law enforcement. The gang non-association restriction against fellow gang members and the banning of members from their own neighborhoods are two examples. If gang members cannot hang out in their own neighborhoods, they will move into rival turfs or even worse, into your community. And restrictions against siblings, mothers and children, fathers and sons, and other relatives from "associating," seem to me to be totally unreasonable. The appellate courts are going to rule against gang injunctions sooner or later.

Saturation Patrol
After a particularly heinous gang crime, many jurisdictions intensify patrol and saturate the gang turf with gang units and suppressive patrol. This rarely produces any lasting results against gangs and almost never results in any significant crime cases, solve rates, or court filings.

So why do we do it? It is for "show," only. It looks like the police are doing something about the gang problem on the 5 o'clock news, even when they don't have a clue. We even establish gang enforcement teams (GET) who run from community to community "putting out fires." This is a very inefficient use of invaluable police manpower just for show.

A better use of police manpower and man-hours would be to simply assign a second officer to every one-man car in the gang areas and to train them in anti-gang tactics. Two officer patrol units will make more and better stops than what one-man units can safely do. They will more safely contact groups of young men (like gang members, for example), and they will make more arrests that will result in more filings and convictions than the temporary gang suppression knee-jerk tactic. Two-man patrol and gang units are a more long-term remedy and not just for show.

Improved Communications Between Officers
Strengthen the communication between patrol, gang, and narco units. This will attack the gang problem from multiple directions. Tactically this is called a flanking maneuver. The major targets of each of these police divisions are often the same people. However, their individual knowledge of the dangers and weaknesses of these targets are very rarely shared with other police units. They often see themselves as competitors. Force them to share intelligence.

We-Tip and Secret Witness
Make it easy for citizens to talk to cops, in any language. Establish an anonymous witness call-in system. Encourage children and their parents to report crimes and identify criminals. Make it a priority to protect and serve crime victims and witnesses first. Develop incentives for police informants in and out of custody.

Immigration Enforcement
Do not ignore the illegal immigrants in your community. Enforce immigration laws. Today many illegals are also gang members and often involved with international drug cartels. Like "Typhoid Mary" they are at the same time the victims and the carriers of a deadly infectious diseases. The organizations involved in trafficking in drugs also traffic in human slavery, false documents, extortion, and vendettas. To ignore this and pretend to fight gangs is foolish. Unfortunately, many of you are prohibited from inquiring into a subject's immigration status by policy or by local law.

Educating the Community

It is important to educate the media about the true nature of gangs, let them meet the gang victims (usually from the same ethnic background as the gang members). The media has been spoon fed with the liberal stereotypical version of gangs because law enforcement has historically answered "no comment" to their questions.

When you educate the media (as liberal as they might be) the community will be enlightened by the more truthful news coverage they produce. An enlightened public will call the politicians to answer for their failures, and they will make better decisions as citizens and as jurors.

About the Author
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Sergeant (Ret.)
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