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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.

Investigative Phases

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 position:

  1. Controlled arrests.

  2. Interviews of randomly arrested gang members.

  3. 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.

Interview Themes

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.

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