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Gang Intelligence Methods in Law Enforcement

The American headlines of any large city will site killings on street corners, robberies, assaults, intimidation, and drug interaction. While not all-criminal activity is associated with gangs, the 780,000 strong members do account for a large majority of the problems that are plaguing America. There is no one-way to stop gang activity in one single swipe, but through a combination of cooperation, education, and training techniques law enforcement can minimize the gang’s movements and even stop a crime before it is committed.

A gang is defined as a group of individuals with the same objective that are bound together by a bond of trust. The majority of gangs are young people, but not every gang member is in his prime. The people that make up a gang are usually trying to achieve something, either money, respect, freedom from the oppression of another gang or law enforcement agency, the need to belong to something greater than themselves, or a combination of any of these. The individual that joins a gang is usually after the same goal that the gang is seeking to obtain.

Different gangs have different characteristics, but all gangs possess at least one: A hierarchy. Whether the gang is a small local crew that never moves out of the neighborhood or a larger well organized team that controls an entire district, there will always be a leader. The leader of the group is the focus of gang-related law enforcement intelligence investigations. Often times the leader of a gang may already be incarcerated, and is still communicating and giving orders from within the walls.

The leader is the individual that is usually the strongest member of the group with the most charisma, not necessarily the smartest member of the group or the member that has been in the group the longest. Membership in a gang does not necessarily mean that the person is uneducated. Some gang members may have positions within the law enforcement communities (Sulc, 65) and some gang members earn college degrees in business, law enforcement, finance, etc. This type of education whether formal or on-the-job will make the gang even stronger.

If an individual cannot afford to go to college, this type of scholarship program could be an incentive to stay or join up with a gang. The more educated a gang is, the harder it becomes to deal with. Collecting information on the gangs is the painful job of every law enforcement agent. The street cop is often in the best position to get good first hand information. The majority of the problems in any jurisdiction tend to occur in a certain area of the district, and the street cop is the official that is usually on the scene first.

This gives that individual the advantage of the moment, as well as first hand knowledge on what crimes are continually committed, identifying any patterns, and visually seeing the same faces in the surrounding area of the crime. This type of intelligence must be quickly relayed in order to stay ahead of possible gang related activity. Another type of information collection comes by the way of open source intelligence. The Internet is a powerful tool and recent advances have made it easier to retrieve specific knowledge (Peterson 2000, 83).

Information can be drawn from web sites or chat rooms that are advertising position openings within a gang for new members. The problem with the information highway is that it may sometimes be a little overwhelming and time consuming in order to find useful information. The news media is another source of collection within the open source intelligence discipline. The media may be the first to a gang-related crime scene or could be doing an inside story on a gang. One major advantage to working with the news media is there is always a camera at the scene, but this can at times also be considered disadvantage.

The media sometimes presents a misconception that the they can cover the story and solve the crime faster than investigator or the analyst (Lowenthall, 131), this leads to another problem with the media; the media can make corrections as it goes, law enforcement cannot. The media can give a quick judgment, and sometimes they are right, but the reporter does not have to answer directly to the American people if the wrong person is apprehended and put in jail. Other personnel that are sometimes enlisted to fight the gang wars are informants.

Informants are citizens that have decided to help law enforcement for one reason or another. An informant could be helping law enforcement in order to receive a lighter sentence, to clean up the neighborhood, or out of vengeance. Not all informants can be totally trusted, but information received should be recorded and filed along with the dependability of the informant’s history. Clandestine or covert operatives are agents that are working for law enforcement, but they do not usually where a police uniform or carry a badge. It is the undercover agent that is at the bread and butter level of the human intelligence level.

The job of the undercover agent is to report everything that is going on out on the street, but not to bust every criminal for minimal offenses. The undercover agent is on the street only to collect as much information as possible for the larger busts. Law enforcement intelligence analysts have the job of tracking the gangs historical, present, and possible future movements and actions. This task in the past has been done by a single agency working on it’s own. With the computer information age, there is a chance for agencies to collectively present information into a whole product to work against the gangs together.

The computer age has brought law enforcement intelligence analysts a valuable tool to combat the gang problem in America. Instead of using note cards and hand or type written reports as source entry documents, the investigating officer can enter the raw data and finalized reports into a database. Different products that the analyst can build from the raw data can range from a phone matrix of calls made by a suspected gang affiliate or even a complex map depicting different gang turfs (Peterson 56, 73), which utilize information that is easily retrieved from a well-organized database.

This system greatly reduces the filing rooms of the twentieth-century and compiles them into an onscreen library, cutting the time for research in half, and enabling the analyst to form intelligence products rapidly. There are many types of analytical software that agencies use to maintain information for current and future use. The Law Enforcement Analysis Data System (LEADS) is one example of analytical software that information can be uploaded into for the analyst to retrieve and draw intelligence from.

LEADS is a fully integrated management system that provides for automated indexing of text, graphics, images, sound, and reports (Peterson, 281). This type of systems and others like it is essential to bringing the analyst closer to a finished product at a faster pace in a day and age when time is of the essence. The key to success in combating the gang problem in the United States is sharing information. There is more to investigative procedures than the days of “Dragnet”, where one individual walked the streets and solved the crime on his own with a notepad.

It is the analyst’s job to pull useful information together in order to build a comprehensive product that the agency can use in order to work a case against a gang to make a verdict stick. Law enforcement now has the capability to put the knowledge of hundreds of officers at the fingertip of one analyst. Information does not have to remain in one district or even one state. The crime range of a well-organized gang will often span across state lines, and interaction between state and federal agencies is crucial in order to track activities, associations, and methods of the gang.

Different agencies may or may not use the same type of collection methods and filing systems, but the goal remains the same: Breaking down the crime ring. When developing partnerships with other agencies, certain precautions must be taken. Criminal investigations often contain sensitive information, and this type of information should not be made public knowledge. There are three criteria that must be met prior to dissemination: 1) The right to know, 2) The need to know, and 3) The authority to release (Peterson 2000, 113).

Personnel must be cleared before sensitive information is released, and it is up to the supervisor of the agency to ensure that no classified information is released to the wrong individual. The release of information to a corrupt source could lead to a gang moving out of the district before a bust can be made or even worse the loss of an undercover agent. Another important tool in combating the gang rings in America is the training of personnel. Law enforcement officials should ensure that every member of the agency has sufficient knowledge of what kind of gangs are in that area of operation.

There are many different kinds of gangs that serve to accomplish different goals, and agents need to beware of the capability and methodology of each gang. The first task of training is the mental training or the actual study and learning through lecture or reading about the gang’s activity. The risk of not collecting raw data is the price that will be paid for untrained personnel. Agents should have as much intelligence information training as possible about gang organizations without compromising on-going investigations. Criminal gangs are often physically well trained possibly better than the law enforcement agents.

Many gang members may have a military background and are often highly effective with knives, firearms, and explosives (Sulc, 137). Gang members often spend time in the prison system as well, which is another form of training ground for convicts. The intelligence training must encompass the mind as well as the body. One large audience of informants that can be used to gather intelligence from is the general public. There are three different ways to encourage citizen participation in the fight against gangs: Solicitation, Education, and Gain of trust.

The first is by solicitation often referred to as the investigation phase of a criminal investigation. The problem with solicitation is, it may give away more information than the investigator and analysts want the criminal opposition to know. The gang members are more than likely asking questions and solicitating information as well. The Second way to get information from the citizens is through education. The majority of Americans want the streets to be a safe place to raise a family, and given enough information about activities in their area will be more likely to take the initiative to try and stop criminal activity.

One example of this type of education is “America’s Most Wanted”, which is a television show that makes investigation information available to everyone in order to try and catch a known offender or suspect. This type of television programming gets people involved by giving them want they want, a way to fight crime. Education also begins in the schools of America’s youth. It is crucial to educate the young about the dangers of joining a gang as well as the penalties for criminal activities. The reason it is so important to reach the children in the schools across the United States is that the gangs are already there.

The more children know about the dangers and penalties, the less likely they will be to engage in such activities. Another way to help educate the children of America is through mentoring plan, like the Big Brother/Sister Organization. These types of programs are also an excellent way to reach the young children in the inner cities. Unfortunately, many children today do not have a positive role model to look up to, or they may only have one parent at home and need a gender-associated role model.

During this type of mentoring it is essential that the adult share the truth about gangs, because the child may have an entirely different opinion about gangs and gang members if those groups are the only role models that he or she is consistently influenced by. The final way to encourage citizen participation is through a gain of trust. Some Americans do not trust law enforcement to clean up the streets, but the majority of Americans understand that catching criminals and bringing down a gang ring is not an easy task.

As long as there is an active show of interaction between law enforcement and the public, than the likelihood of information sharing is always greater. The gang related activity of America cannot be extinguished overnight, but understanding that the fight against such crime is not an easy task will help win the American people’s support. The average citizen is enraged as well as discouraged by the acts of criminal gang forces, and the majority of Americans stand behind law enforcement already. The only way to put a dent in the criminal gang forces of America is through a combination of cooperation, education, and training techniques.

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