The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gang Laws and their inability to be useful against real criminals

It has been my ongoing impression that the people who create gang laws think that gangs recruit exclusively from the lower-class, uneducated, unambitious parts of our society. Though some of the followers may be found in these populations, a good amount of gang leaders would make good non-gang (read: not criminal) leaders had they made different decisions. There's a term called 3G2 (Third Generation Gangs) that may explain why focusing on the low-hanging fruit (more on that another time) is not a good idea.

With that said, our lawmakers have a habit of offering us feel-good anti-gang laws that either have no teeth or no application. I think the placement of the law in the "Laws On Children, Youth And Families section is an indicator of this.

If the laws lack teeth, police officers cannot use them for what they were (maybe) intended. An example of the no-teeth part might be seen in Tennessee Code Annoted (TCA) 40-35-121, which I have been told is fairly useless as an enhancement guideline for sentencing.

The Code allows for serious gang-related crime to be charged/enhanced one (1) classification higher than the crime committed. The requirements to be met, however, are much steeper than simply showing the suspect is a gang-member. Moving the hurdle higher is like taking the teeth out of it, the law won't be used.

If the laws have no application, then they don't apply to the real world -- indicating the creation of the law was neither well-thought-out nor well-coordinated. An example of this no application part would be the federal legislation "intended" to prohibit active gang members from serving in the military. That's another topic for another day.

Lately, at least in Tennessee, there appears to be a shift. Not only are gang cops consistently busting their butts to identify and arrest criminal gang activity, but now the legislators are showing signs they are listening. 

The new law, introduced by Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, who introduced the bill along with Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, would place criminal gang offenses within the state’s existing Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, where convictions would be class B felonies with sentences ranging from at least 12 to 20 years. You should note, though, that cases big enough for RICO-like charges are likely to get the attention of the Federal Prosecutors, as noted by Sgt. Todd Royval. It was the federal RICO laws that were successfully used against the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) a few years back.

The measure expands RICO, previously restricted to child pornography and drug trafficking.

It redefines "racketeering activity" to include committing, attempting to commit, conspiring to commit or soliciting or coercing someone else to commit a criminal gang offense, including threatening or knowingly causing injury or death; receiving money or anything of value from the commission of an aggravated burglary; or from the illegal sale, delivery or manufacture of a controlled substance or firearm.

Note that it's the RICO laws that are being expanded, but the original law is being incorporated into it. It will take some time to see if the prosecutors can/will do something with this. I know they could not before this.

What do you think?

Public disclaimer: I am a founding board member of the Tennessee Gang Investigator's Association, headquartered in Hixson, so I might have a propensity to think gang cops don't get enough support.

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updated 6/13/12 -- removed dead link to news article (Anti-Gang Law Rarely Used:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gangs in Child Welfare

On Friday, I will be in a satellite and internet broadcast panel discussion hosted by the Tennessee Center for Child Welfare (TCCW). The panel will be addressing “Gangs in Child Welfare” on May 18, 2012. Available at the TCCW web site -

Overview and History of Gangs
Carter Smith
Ben Austin
Meaning/Defining gangs
Street gangs mentioned by Chaucer (1390) and Shakespeare (1602)
little known of the members
Generally accepted criteria for identifying groups as gangs:     
Three or more members.    
Members share group identity and other symbols.    
Members view themselves as a gang, and they are recognized by others as a gang.   
Permanence and organization.    
Criminal activity.
Gang Formation
Individual needs
physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem
Individual responses
To pressure/Strain
Community needs
Community responses
Support/Conceal crime
Hire/direct Law Enforcement
Economic association
Traditional gang organization not unlike traditional business organization
Fills a void
Serves community
Depended upon
Gangs engage in legitimate business activity.
Startup funding from ill-gotten gains
Often use legitimate business to launder money
Nonetheless, gang businesses serve community

Gang Investigators’ Perceptions of Military-Trained Gang Members (MTGM)

My article, Gang Investigators’ Perceptions of Military-Trained Gang Members (MTGM), written with Dr. Yvonne Doll, Northcentral University, was published in Critical Issues in Justice and Politics  (Volume 5, Number 1, May 2012, ISSN 1940-3186). For access to the Journal - 

Preview at -

Keywords: articles of gangs in the army, military crime, research articles, us military training gangs, gang-related activity in the us armed forces increasing, dod strategic plan for gangs in the military, army definition of gang, army enlistment, gang activity in the us military, street gangs in the military, percent of military personnel have gang association, gangs in the military

Communities everywhere have experienced the negative effects of street gangs.  The presence of military-trained gang members (MTGMs) in the community increases the threat of violence to citizens.  The problem addressed in this study was the apparently growing presence of military-trained gang members in civilian communities.  The purpose of the study was to determine the perceived presence of military-trained gang members and to examine whether there was a relationship between the perceptions of gang investigators regarding the presence and the size of their jurisdictions, the proximity of their jurisdictions to a military installation, and the extent to which investigators participate in anti-gang activities.  The statistical analyses used to test the hypotheses in this study were Pearson and Spearman Correlation Coefficients, independent means t tests, and Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) Regression analysis.  Respondents reported a mean of 11% of the gang members in their jurisdictions were MTGMs.  The Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve were identified as the largest sources of MTGMs and the Bloods, Crips, and Gangster Disciples were the gangs most represented.  Recommendations included all branches of the military therein should adopt a uniform definition of gangs.  Military leaders should acknowledge the increase in gang-related crime affecting the military and address the problems caused for both military and civilian communities without attempting to quantify the threat level.  Military leadership should continuously examine the activities of all suspected military gang members to determine active gang affiliation for retention purposes while evaluating any gang affiliation for security clearances.    Military Law Enforcement liaison for recruiters should develop effective communication with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to assist with information sharing. 

For access to the complete article, contact the Journal -