Law enforcement has spent decades fighting street gangs. Analysts, gang units, joint task forces and intelligence collection have been the primary strategies employed in the battle against gangs.

Over 20 years ago our community was under siege. Arsons to vehicles, random shootings and violent crime were occurring daily. Unfortunately, we as law enforcement were letting this occur. Local agencies were turning a blind eye to the issue. Proactive strategies were non-existent. Police enforcement was reactive at best.

New leadership took over with an aggressive approach to addressing gang violence, not just locally but regionally as well. The approach involved very simple logical steps. Gather intelligence on gang members, train officers to identify and understand the culture of gangs, determine the cause of the violence and formulate a plan to stop it.

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If we don’t give police the power to intervene, gang violence could become a nationwide epidemic. (Flickr)

 

Gathering intelligence sounded simpler than it really was. Understanding the gang culture was less difficult than changing the dormant culture of policing. What can be best described as a hostile takeover of the community was occurring at a rapid pace.

My former boss was young, aggressive and progressive. He was a Marine with an ‘attack’ strategy. Not here, not now, not in our community.

The strategy was simple. Saturate, Stop, Identify and Arrest. All within the parameters of the law. Two weeks of nonstop blitzing involving State, Federal, County and local police departments working in unison. No egos, no politics or bureaucrats, just cops doing good police work.

cops can smell crime

LAPD gang investigator. (Photo courtesy Chris Yarzab)

 

There is nothing that sends a clearer message than pulling a traffic stop on a car four-deep with gang bangers and your assist unit is a helicopter, lighting up the entire street.

It took us years to take our community back. I believe it would only take weeks to regress. Slowly, gangs are beginning to surface again. A fight here, a tagging there, then 14 shots pumped into a house with three infants inside. Sheer luck prevented anyone from being injured. There’s been three shootings this year at the same house. No cooperation from the intended targets. If anyone doubts this was a gang incident, they’re living in a bubble.

It took a phone call from the mother of a murder victim to confirm gang involvement. This mother had lost her son in a shooting a year ago. I could hear the anger in voice. She provided some names and gang affiliations.

One of the names provided led our detective to the local high school. All he asked for was contact information. The School Resource Officer (SRO) denied the request, informing the detective of recent changes in school policy that prohibited information from being shared. The SRO was as helpful as he could be, understanding the impact to criminal investigations with this inexplicable change in policy.

Within the past few days we’ve responded to multiple calls involving gang members. The evolving change and emboldened behavior is increasing. The storm is on the horizon once again.

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“Am I being arrested?” “Am I being detained?” both victims and offenders alike ask as blood is streaking down the side of their head. These were the questions thrown at us by a Latin Kings member who had been beaten with a belt by his girlfriend over an argument about a cellphone.

“What happened?”

“I fell.”

A 12-year-old who recently threatened a 75-year-old woman refused to provide the officer with his name, parents’ name or his address. “You’re detaining me illegally.” His Latin King brother had schooled him well and his mother immediately alleged police unlawfully detained and injured her son.

Elimination of gang databases, criticism of probable cause stops, rebranding of gang units… are we handcuffing law enforcement or empowering criminals? Emboldening them to become more aggressive under the guise of injustice. The current environment locally and nationally is ripe for the return of gang violence. Politicians buckling under to gain votes are struggling to come up with solutions.

My agency is small, yet we still are subjected to the same violence as major cities, albeit on a smaller scale, but one shooting is still one too many.

We have the support of our local elected officials and the community, however knee-jerk legislation by state government negates this local support. Officers are reluctant to engage known criminals. Yet legislators and elected officials in major cities are critical of the rising violence, blaming law enforcement.

Chicago has assigned hundreds of additional officers during projected violent weekends with no impact. If police don’t have any genuine support nor given the tools to effectively combat gangs and the violence they bring, there is clearly no end in sight.

We should pay attention to history. It has a tendency to bite us in the ass.

Around 1959, Jeff Fort formed the Blackstone Rangers gang. The Blackstone Rangers originated as a small gang along Blackstone Avenue in the Woodlawn area of Chicago, uniting to defend themselves against other gangs on the South Side. The Rangers fought rival gangs during the early 1960s. Fort earned the nickname “Angel” for his ability to solve disputes and form alliances between gangs. By the mid 1960s, Fort had assembled a coalition of 21 gangs with about 5,000 members. As the Blackstone Rangers grew, they became involved in community and political activism. The gang also learned how to manage their organization.

gang database

(Courtesy koppatreede)

 

Fort obtained a charter from the State of Illinois to form a political organization, Grassroots Independent Voters of Illinois, in 1967. Fort’s organization applied for and received a US$1 million federal grant from the now-defunct Office of Economic Opportunity to fund a program to teach job skills to gang members.

The Rangers also received grants and loans from private foundations. The Blackstone Rangers became increasingly accepted by Chicago society, with Jeff Fort even receiving an invitation from President Richard Nixon, following the 1968 election to attend the 1969 inaugural ball.

Fort assumed complete command of the Rangers by 1968 and rebranded it to the Almighty Black P. Stone Nation or Black P. Stones. The Stones engaged in robberies, extortion, and forced recruitment while also acting to keep order on the South Side. As a kid growing up in the city you would know the onset of summer was coming when murders began to rise due to gang recruitment.

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 Seven MS-13 members accused of stabbing a rival gang member to death. (Baltimore County Police Department)

 

The Stones also dipped into prostitution, demanding protection payments from prostitution operations and drug dealers. In 1969 the feds finally woke up and the Stones’ jobs program came under investigation when it was discovered grant money was being diverted to criminal activities.

Fort was subpoenaed to testify before a Senate committee where he arrived, stayed a few minutes and then walked out. A big middle finger to the panel. He was convicted of contempt of Congress. In 1972, Fort and two others were convicted of misusing federal funds and Fort was sentenced to five years in prison. Fort served two years at the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth and was paroled in 1976.

As I began saying, history has a way of repeating itself if we don’t learn from the past. There is no mystery here.

Help us, don’t hinder us.

I have three rules I relate to new officers their first day out of the Police Academy: Do Your Job, Follow Policy and don’t Commit a Criminal Act. We are not the enemy.

A reminder to bureaucrats, we have sworn an oath to Serve and Protect. As have you.  

 

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