Effective Gang Enforcement
The proposed approach to combating gangs is based on the idea that
the gang is an instrument of the leader's will—a will that
often requires violence to satisfy personal ambitions. An investigative
goal is to develop conspiracy cases from evidence obtained by turning
the gang's violence inward upon vulnerable gang members. This is
done by pitting the sensible against the indiscriminately violent
and by turning the many troops against the one corrupt gang leader.
This method works because many gang members are against senseless
violence. This approach takes advantage of the tension that violence
creates within the gang and uses it against the gang's leaders,
who advocate for and approve of violence.
The initial or covert phase of the investigation involves
identifying the gang's members, detecting its victims and violent
acts, learning its reputation, and developing an informant to observe
and record the gang's characteristics and activities over time.
When the covert phase is complete, the investigation moves to the overt phase—targeting
members who are outside the leadership nucleus.
During the overt phase, the targeted gang members are placed in
legal jeopardy in a highly structured interview situation designed
to change their allegiance from the gang to the investigative team.
Police use one of three methods to place gang members in this vulnerable
- Controlled arrests.
- Interviews of randomly arrested gang members.
- Grand juries as investigative tools.
Controlled arrests. The first method places the
target in a highly vulnerable legal position and is used when it
can be done without diverting too much attention from the primary
investigation. An example of an ideal controlled arrest is the arrest
of a gang member for a firearm violation when the member has had
at least three prior felony convictions. Such an arrest exposes
the target to a minimum federal penalty of 15 years without parole.
An arrest for possession of a controlled, dangerous substance when
the subject is already on parole also isolates a gang member and
creates uncertainty within the gang.
Interviews of randomly arrested gang members. The
second method, interviewing randomly arrested gang members, depends
a great deal on chance. For large, well-established gangs, the
likelihood is high that at any time some members may be incarcerated.5 Because
gang members know that jail time is a reality, they may feel vulnerable
to prosecution if witnesses and/or evidence exist that could link
them to a crime. If the subject can be convinced that his or her
actions fall within the scope of a conspiracy charge, uncertainty
is generated and the subject often becomes a good candidate for
switching allegiances and cooperating with the government.
Grand juries as investigative tools. The
third method, using the grand jury, is the most productive approach.
Police can place a gang member in a vulnerable position without
expending a great deal of time or investigative energy. The threat
of a perjury or contempt sanction, juxtaposed with a promise of
immunity and a chance to escape a losing proposition (i.e., long
jail time), makes the gang member feel uncertain and insecure—an
ideal situation for the interviewer. After a gang member is placed
in this vulnerable position, he or she is confronted in a pre-grand-jury
interview by an investigator and prosecutor who work as a team.
The interviewer introduces the two major themes.
Gang violence and the gang leader. The
first theme is a litany of the gang's violence, the responsibility
for which is placed squarely on the leader. The gang leader is
labeled a terrorist, and the violence is presented as both reprehensible
to the subject and ostentatious, as the violence draws attention
to and thereby endangers the very existence of the gang. The interviewer
suggests that the leader has broken the covenant with the gang
and is no longer worthy of the interview subject's loyalty.
Self-interest. The second theme of the interview
is self-interest. Leniency for the subject's crimes can be considered
in exchange for cooperation against the violence-prone nucleus
of the gang. This offers the subject a way to escape full exposure
for certain crimes (which may not be prosecutable due to lack of
sufficient evidence). Because a peripheral or an alienated gang
member is not the target of the investigation, and since no attempt
has been made to gather evidence against the subject, nothing is
lost by seeking a grant of immunity. As the investigation expands
and evidence is gathered, a peripheral member could become a target
of prosecution, and then the member's cooperation and/or immunity
may be considered only in light of this new reality. However, the
goal of the investigative process is to foster cooperation.
Other themes. While stressing the major
themes, the interviewer also introduces subthemes. These include
the police officers' knowledge of the gang, the inevitability of
prosecution, and the scope of the investigation. These themes are
designed to convince the subject to shift allegiances. The interviewer
alludes to the subject's role in the gang, identifies nicknames,
and shows knowledge of the gang's reputed deeds. Attention is also
drawn to the special nature of the investigative team and its successful
track record. Details of the investigator's methods are shared.
The subject is advised that there are cooperators (i.e., legions
of informants) and that even gang members who are not targeted
will be interviewed. The interviewer emphasizes that there is no
neutral ground—either the subject cooperates, falls afoul of the
grand jury through contempt, or becomes a target of the investigation.
In the overt grand jury phase of the investigation, street-level
informants who are active in the gang's territory are gathered
to pinpoint witnesses, identify nicknames, and report feedback
concerning another subject's interview. For example, in the Stanfield
cases, one detective developed a street-level informant who
listened to gang members rehash grand jury testimony (e.g., He
would relate another's conversation, "I told them that but they
didn't ask me this.") The informant passed that information to
the detective, the subject was reinterviewed, and additional information
was gained the second time around. This type of informant is invaluable
to the investigative approach and, because of the type of information
sought, is easily developed and maintained.