Gangfighters Weblog

November 2, 2012

SkyDogCon 2 09 Gangs and the Use of Technology Carter Smith

Technology advances have changed the way the average American communicates, plans his or her day, shops, drives, and does many other things. Technology has changed the way criminals, specifically gang members, live their lives as well. As gangs evolve, many adopt more of a business model. How does that affect the way law enforcement should investigate them?
You will get an overview of criminal communications options, actions, and interactions followed by a discussion of how law enforcement – mostly gang cops – can and do respond. Ideas on how to engage, assist, or even thwart the detection of such activity will be provided.  The use of metaphors to explain how technology functions often helps the not-so-literate grasp the concepts we will discuss – an impromptu brainstorming session on how that works will likely occur.

Presenter Bio
Carter F. Smith usually presents to groups that are wearing or sitting on badges. In his day job he is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice & Homeland Security in the Department of Public Management and Criminal Justice at the Internationally-renowned Austin Peay State University.   During his more than twenty-two year career with the U.S. Army, he used a variety of lengthy titles to describe his jobs with the Criminal Investigations Command (CID).   He has provided training on many gang-related topics to the TN, GA, FL, OK, and Northwest Gang Investigator’s Associations, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice.
His research and investigative interests include military-trained gang members, technology use by gang members, and the intersection of criminal street gangs, organized crime, and terrorism.  He’s got a Ph.D from Northcentral University, a Juris Doctorate from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, a Bachelor’s degree from Austin Peay State University.  He’s been interviewed by a bunch of news outlets, has published a bunch on gangs, and was on two segments of the History Channel’s Gangland series.

August 8, 2012

Laws against gang recruiting: Worth the time and effort?

Filed under: civil remedies, gang, gang member, ganglaw, gangs, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 9:54 am

The FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) keeps us updated on their “conservative” estimate of the number of gang members in the United States. At last count there were 1.4 million. 

That figure represented an increase of 400,000 over the conservatively estimated 1,000,000 as of September 2008.  The 2009 NGIC estimate represented 212,000 more gang members (26% higher) than the 2007 report.  The estimate was 215,000 (28%) higher than the number of gang members reported by the National Youth Gang Center in 2006 (NYGC).  The estimate was also 200,000 (25%) higher than the 800,000 gang members reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Deputy Director Pistole (2008) in March of 2008. 

Meanwhile, the National Youth Gang Center reports gang membership is now pretty close to where it was 15 or so years ago (1996-2010). Following a yearly (limited) decline from 1996 to a low in 2003, annual estimates steadily increased through 2010 (NYGC).

And how are those increases in membership numbers achieved

Recruiting. In some places it’s called “cause, induce or solicit another person to participate in.”

Many local jurisdictions have started targeting recruiting for gangs — making it a violation of the law. And some states have shown an interest in doing the same (specifically AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, DE, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, MD, MA, MI, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NC, ND, OK, SC, TX, UT, VA, WA, WI, WY) (that was 34 states plus the District of Columbia). Some states, for example PennsylvaniaFlorida and Georgia, have gone beyond that and said gang recruiters can’t require a prospect to commit a crime. MN has laws that don’t appear to prohibit recruiting (prohibiting simply one who solicits or conspires with a minor to commit a crime or delinquent act) , but do address other forms of threat and intimidation.

Is this a strategy based on reality? 

Do we really think that by telling leaders of criminal groups that recruiting new members is wrong they will stop doing so? Perhaps we should also tell them that about 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, or any of the racketeering offenses we examined in Gang Laws and their inability to be useful against real criminals!

Ultimately, I don’t think prohibiting recruiting will work, as intended, if the intent was to get the gang members to swear off recruiting. In fact, it reminds me of the signs my dog is inclined to ignore on our walks (until she experiences human intervention).

image from

But it might give the kids they recruit something to think about and may give the police another strategy for stopping the gang activity that plagues our nation.

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.

Like the TNGIA on Facebook!

July 13, 2012

Addressing the gang problem in strategically different ways

Filed under: civil remedies, gang, gang member, gang violence, nashville, tennessee — carterfsmith @ 10:43 am

In A great civil law tool — injunctions and related actions against gangs — but what about civic involvement — Southern Style! we looked at Metro Nashville’s efforts to declare the Kurdish Pride Gang (KPG) and several members a public nuisance. The use of gang injunctions prohibiting documented gang members from associating with each other in public has been on the rise across the country — especially in California, though also used effectively in Florida and Texas, among other places.

But what other innovations in the use of civil law are there? How creative can We, the People get to effectively combat the plaque of gangs and gang crime that threaten our cities and states?

Traditional Anti-gang activities include formal anti-gang teams, sections, or task forces; injunctions; and restrictive ordinances.

Civil Law provides a way to get a legal remedy for accidents, negligence, cases of libel, contract disputes, property disputes, probating wills, trusts, administrative law, commercial law, and other matters that involve private parties and organizations including government departments. Civil law helps resolve non-criminal disputes like disagreements over the meanings of contracts, property ownership, divorce, child custody, personal and property damage.

In California, as an example, the state sought damages on behalf of residents (who cannot file suit themselves because they fear retaliation) to distribute proceeds from seized (and sold) homes, businesses and other assets. CA state law allows government to act on behalf of members of the neighborhoods affected by gang activity and collect monetary damages in areas with gang injunctions.

I’ve got the scoop on injunctions and ordinances — looking more for nuisances, penalties, and forfeitures. I am specifically looking for innovative ideas that may be a challenge to implement! Ideas like:

  • make “gang offenders” register (for certain crimes) and identify their residences and known hangouts online
  • increase difficulty of custodial or non-custodial parents to conceal gang affiliation
  • allow use of gang affiliation in settling of divorce and child custody disputes
  • hold business owners responsible if they allow/don’t prevent gangs from gathering, committing crimes or concealing evidence on premises.
  • require specific lighting for public and open private areas where groups of people congregate with regularity
  • seize gang or gang member property used in or purchased from profits of crime 
  • recoup damages for graffiti on private or government property

What do you think?

Please either comment or email me — carterfsmith at g

July 6, 2012

Big League Gangfighting in the Volunteer State

Filed under: define, definition, gang, gang member, ganglaw, gangs, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 9:51 am

In The odds of finding a “pattern of criminal gang activity” we examined the likelihood of a gang member committing a crime, that he was caught doing, that was considered a felony, twice, within a five-year period, after committing a prior crime for which he was caught and convicted . . . 

I know, it’s confusing . . . perhaps it will still be applied.

Despite my suspicions that the law will not be used heavily by prosecutors, I am impressed that it is law, and available. This is all part of the legislature’s move to 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 (as we discussed in Gang Laws and their inability to be useful against real criminals.

While RICO was originally aimed at the Mafia, over the past four decades, prosecutors have used it against many organized crime groups: street gangs, gang cartels, corrupt police departments and even politicians. To violate RICO, a person must engage in a pattern of racketeering activity connected to an enterprise. 

The TN Legislature appears to be making a shift toward acknowledgement that gangs are more of an organized crime problem than a juvenile delinquency problem.


This shift puts us in, or at least heading toward, the Big Leagues, where states like New York, Illinois, and California (motivated by crime in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles) have (and have had) similar laws.

Not so bravo

According to New York Criminal Procedure (b) A criminal act is “a part of” a pattern of criminal activity when alleged in a count of enterprise corruption when it is committed prior

  to commencement of the criminal action in which enterprise corruption is
charged and was committed in furtherance of the same common scheme or
plan or with intent to participate in or further the affairs of the same
criminal enterprise
to which the crimes specifically included in the
pattern are connected.

I take that to mean the crime has to be gang (or other organized crime group)-related.

Illinois defines a pattern as 2 or more gang-related criminal offenses committed in whole or in part within this State when: (1) at least one such offense was committed after the effective date of this Act;(2) both offenses were committed within 5 years ofeach other; and(3) at least one offense involved the solicitation tocommit, conspiracy to commit, attempt to commit, or commission of any offense defined as a felony or forcible felony under the Criminal Code of 1961.”Course or pattern of criminal activity” also means one or more acts of criminal defacement of property under Section 21-1.3 of the Criminal Code of 1961, if the defacement includes a sign or other symbol intended to identify the streetgang.

So it appears Illinois requires the gang member to be careless enough to commit repeated crimes within the state, but they specifically include graffiti as a repeated offense?

California appears similar to ours with their Section 186.22(e), which defines a “pattern of criminal gang activity” as the “commission of, attempted commission of, conspiracy to commit, or solicitation of, sustained juvenile petition for, or conviction of two or more of the offenses [enumerated therein] . . . committed on separate occasions, or by two or more persons . . . .”

So where do we go from here?

What do you think?

Public disclaimer: I am a founding board member of the Tennessee Gang Investigator’s Association.

Like the TNGIA on Facebook!

June 27, 2012

The odds of finding a "pattern of criminal gang activity"

Filed under: criminal justice courses, fbi, gang member, ganglaw, gangs — carterfsmith @ 1:42 pm

According to Tennessee § 40-35-121. Criminal Gang Offenses—Enhanced Punishment—Procedure, a “Pattern of criminal gang activity” means prior convictions for the commission or attempted commission of, or solicitation or conspiracy to commit either:
  • Two (2) or more criminal gang offenses that are classified as felonies; or
  • Three (3) or more criminal gang offenses that are classified as misdemeanors; or
  • One (1) or more criminal gang offense that is classified as a felony and two (2) or more criminal gang offenses that are classified as misdemeanors; and
  • The criminal gang offenses are committed on separate occasions; and
  • The criminal gang offenses are committed within a five-year period.
Put another way, it means the (presumably street-wise) gang member has to avoid conviction of all but two times he commits a felony in five years to keep from having this enhancement apply to his actions. 
To understand how easy this is, consider the arrest rate of people, generally, for all crimes, bearing in mind that gang members have a built-in mentoring and arrest avoidance program. 
The FBI reports an arrest rate based on the population. They reported in 2009 that the arrest rate was 4,478.0 arrests per 100,000 inhabitants of the total estimated United States population (violent crime was 191.2 per 100,000 and property crime was 571.1 per 100,000). That means that an estimated 4500 arrests were made for every 100,000 people, or 4 1/2 per 100 (4.5%).
This method of calculation shows arrest rates but what about the arrest percentage, or: How likely is a perpetrator to get arrested for committing a crime? 
This is often represented by a crime funnel. The funnel represents the much lower number of crimes detected and punished by the criminal justice system than the number actually committed. Early in the criminal justice system (where the police are), many arrests are made, but the number to be prosecuted shrinks as they are removed from the process. Some are dismissed, while others get referred for treatment or counseling. 
Here’s an example:
Note that the basic numbers go like this. For every 1,000 crimes committed, 500 of them (that’s half) are reported to the police. Of the 500 reported to the police, 100 arrests (that’s 20% of the crimes reported and 10% of the crimes committed) are made.

And now that the police have done the hard work, the folks in the rest of the “system” take over.

Of the 100 arrests, about one-third (35%) are juveniles, and 30 of them are put on probation or have their cases dismissed. Though many gang members are juveniles, you can imagine how that wraps up — stick with me for the adult analysis. 

Of the 100 arrests, about two-thirds (65%) are adults, and 25 of those cases are dropped. Of the 40 people remaining, prepared for court (a function of the Courts part of the Criminal Justice System), 10 jump bail, abscond, or otherwise take affirmative action to avoid further prosecution. From the remaining 30, 27 plead guilty in court, 2 who didn’t are found guilty, and 1 (of 30 who remain of the 100 arrested for the 1000 crimes) is acquitted. 

Note, if you will, that acquitted is not the same as innocence — it’s the same as there wasn’t enough evidence to support the charges. Note, also, that the court system is where multiple incidents can be combined into one and felonies can turn into misdemeanors.

Of the 29 people sentenced, 8 of them (about 27%) are placed on probation and 21 of them are incarcerated (both are functions of the Corrections part of the Criminal Justice System).

To make sure we have that locked in and comprehended — for every 1000 crimes committed, 500 (half) get reported. Of the reported crimes, 100 arrests (one-fifth) are made. Of the people arrested, about 29 people (less than 30% of those arrested) are convicted, and 20 (one-fifth) are incarcerated. That’s a little different than the FBI numbers, don’t you think?

So, assuming a gang member doesn’t get locked up for five years, they have to fight the odds of getting convicted of two separate felonies or three separate misdemeanors during that time OR they can be identified as being involved in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

What are the odds of that?
See also: 

Gang Laws and their inability to be useful against real criminals

June 13, 2012

A great civil law tool — injunctions and related actions against gangs — but what about civic involvement — Southern Style!

Filed under: gang member, gangs, nashville — carterfsmith @ 9:11 am

It’s not been covered too much in the news, but check out Metro Files Lawsuit Against Accused Gang Members: Metro’s legal department has filed a lawsuit against the Kurdish Pride Gang (KPG) and several of their alleged members, asking that they be declared a public nuisance. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the gangs and other organized crime groups — heck, even regular everyday criminals — could be declared a nuisance?

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be enough citizens who are 1) annoyed and 2) able to stand up for themselves. I completely support the MNPD‘s actions, but why is it they seem to be the only ones acting like gangs in our communities are a bad thing? These groups have been treated as if they are living the American Dream — and unfortunately in many cases, they are. 

Typical responses to gang behavior include public (community or neighborhood based) official (using the criminal justice system) and legislative (local, state, and federal legislative bodies) action.  Local anti-gang legislation like civil abatement laws, injunctions, and restrictive ordinances rarely make an impact on gangs, though they often force a move out of “our neighborhood”. With these injunctions, gang-free zones are sought (like public parks or neighborhoods). 

In this country, it′s not against the law to be a member of a gang. The First Amendment  gives us the right to join any group or club, assuming we meet their requirements. Implicit within this right is the right to associate with members of the group. That seems to indicate the right includes membership and affiliation with gangs and gang members. What is prohibited is the committing of crimes and other actions that gang members often do. In a nutshell, then, it’s legal to be a member of a gang, but not to be an active member, as active gang members commit crimes (or their group would not “qualify” as a gang). The constitutional right to assemble allows us to gather (only) for lawful purposes. Thankfully, the courts have held that the government may prohibit people from associating in groups that engage in and promote illegal activities. 

With injunctions and related actions, the gang is sued as a public nuisance with evidence provided by the police and sometimes members of the community.   Injunctions have been seen to reduce gang member visibility, gang intimidation, and fear of crime by residents.   That works for the community, at least for a time, but we can do better.

The better strategies incorporate the community-based policing efforts that include mobilizing and interacting with community members in a coordinated effort.  When there is an established community policing effort (not unlike what it took to implement bike patrols, drug market interventions, and the use of Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety — DDACTS), prosecutors and police can include input from police, prosecutors, merchants, property owners, and other community members when devising strategies like obtaining injunctions, so there’s more of a chance the affected parties are included in the decisions.  

Additional work to improve neighborhood cohesion and informal control is needed, but let’s not depend entirely on the police to do it.   Gang injunctions should be used on a continuing basis and more resources should be directed into the enforcement and maintenance of gang injunctions, assuming they are effective, but at some point citizens need to get engaged in the process. It starts by teaching children (not just our own, unfortunately) that gangs are a bad thing. We need to change the paradigm, and that requires a relatively long-term commitment. 

The action against the KPG represents the first time a local government has sought to have alleged members declared a public nuisance since criminal gang behavior was added to the state’s public nuisance law in 2009. This action (at least the use of injunctions in Nashville) has been planned for a few years. That serves as yet another reason that citizens need to get involved in the push-back effort against gangs. Citizen groups, as evidenced by Occupy Nashville, Wall Street, and so many others, don’t have such a long and extended lead time waiting for the legislators, leadership, and courts to synchronize.

Other coverage by NPR here.

What do you think?

All grown up but still banging – when juvenile gang members become adults

Presenting today to the Tennessee Alliance for Children and Families, 8th Annual Education Conference “Achieving Success in the Face of Adversity.” 

Presentation titled All grown up but still banging: What issues can we expect if they don’t “age out?”  in Nashville, TN on June 13, 2012. 

May 30, 2012

Gang Laws and their inability to be useful against real criminals

Filed under: DoD DIR 1325.6, gang activity in college, gang member, ganglaw, law — carterfsmith @ 10:24 am

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.

Anti-Gang Law Rarely Used:

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.

Like the TNGIA on Facebook!

April 26, 2011

Come join us for a talk about Gangs on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 on OpenLine with Scott Arnold on NewsChannel 5+

Filed under: gang, gang member, gang violence, nashville — carterfsmith @ 10:53 am

Topic: Gangs

Date: Tuesday, May 3, 2011

OpenLine with Scott Arnold on NewsChannel 5+ (250 on Comcast in Nashville).

The show is on the air from 7:00-8:00 p.m.

We will have a discussion and take viewer phone calls.

March 11, 2011

Perceptions of Gang Investigation Regarding Presence of Military-Trained Gang Members

View this document in ProQuest

Abstract (summary)

Communities everywhere have experienced the negative effects of street gangs. Gang activity in the form of crime and violence has had a devastating effect on the lives of citizens and the safety of our communities. The presence of military-trained gang members (MTGMs) in the community increases the threat of violence to citizens. The problem addressed in this quantitative correlational research study was the apparently growing presence of military-trained gang members in civilian communities. The purpose of the study was to more closely examine the nexus between the perceived presence of military-trained gang members and 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. An online survey, the Military Gang Perception Questionnaire (MGPQ), was created to collect responses from the 260 active members of the Tennessee Gang Investigators Association (TNGIA). The electronic distribution of the survey was facilitated by Google Documents. A sample size calculation was computed for a multiple regression analysis involving seven predictors, a significance level of .05, a power of 80%, and a medium effect size (f 2 =0.15). That power analysis indicated that N =103 was sufficient to detect this size of effect. 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. Many of the 119 respondents felt anti-gang prohibitions would limit the activity of MTGMs. 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. There was a statistically significant positive correlation (ρ=.24, p <.05) between MTGM presence percent score and jurisdiction size. There was also a statistically significant positive correlation (ρ=.28, p <.05) between MTGM presence percent score and the distance from the nearest military installation (computed). Recommendations included that military leadership should conduct cumulative tracking and analysis of gang threats, and apply an all-hands approach to identifying gang members in the military. When an installation shows a decrease in gang-related activity, solutions that led to the decrease should be identified. Military leadership should identify and examine all suspected military gang members and policy makers should identify gangs and related groups as Security Threat Groups.

Indexing (details)

Subjects Criminology, Public policy, Military studies
Classification 0627: Criminology, 0630: Public policy, 0750: Military studies
Identifiers / Keywords Social sciences, Gangs, Street gangs, Military, Armed forces, Gang members, Military-trained
Title Perceptions of Gang Investigation Regarding Presence of Military-Trained Gang Members
Authors Smith, Carter F.
Publication title ProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Number of pages 202
Publication year 2010
Publication Date 2010
Year 2010
Section 1443
ISBN 9781124391373
Advisor House, John
School Northcentral University
School location United States — Arizona
Degree Ph.D.
Source type Dissertations & Theses
Language of Publication English; EN
Document Type Dissertation/Thesis
Publication / Order Number 3437991
ProQuest Document ID 845233422
Document URL
Copyright Copyright ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing 2010
Last Updated 2011-01-27
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