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 15, 2012

Parents anger misdirected — should be upset with themselves

Filed under: gang, ganglaw, gangs, law — carterfsmith @ 10:33 am

A recent headline — Parents angry after finding children’s names on police ‘gang lists’ contains the epitome of parental denial of a problem.

Are there really parents in today’s world who believe their kids are innocent just because the kid says they are?

Back in the day, women who attended Mom School learned to tell their kids that who you are is affected by with whom you associate. This advice was more likely passed on with comments like, “Don’t hang around them boys — they are trouble.”

Men had a school, too, but many of us failed to graduate, so all we were able to say in support was “You heard your mother, boy, don’t make her tell you again.”

Apparently Mom and Dad school have lower attendance numbers or, maybe, this isn’t taught any more. Nonetheless, it’s a timeless principle — except when you fail to accept responsibility for the children you bring into this world.

Here’s a few clips from the story, in an attempt to put (what I see as) the reality into perspective . . .

Neither boy had ever been arrested and, (the mother) said, (and) neither was involved with gangs.

Well, the mother may be an authority on whether her son had ever been arrested, though the police would know better. She is not an authority on whether her son is in a gang, unless, of course, she is with him around the clock. What this response means is either 1) my son told me he is not in a gang and those drawings on his school papers and suspicious friends he hangs with don’t convince me otherwise, or 2) I have more important things to do than keep track of my son’s whereabouts and have taught him that denying reality makes it go away.

. . . more than 50 people, all but a few of them black, showed up . . . heard eight representatives of law enforcement agencies, all but two of them white, tell them why they keep these lists and how they use them.

Anytime the media, or observers for that matter, make a point to note the races of those involved without also showing why that was important, it’s not. More police officers are white and more street gang members are black. That’s not something that affects the facts of the case. I am pretty sure it doesn’t change readership.

JR got on the list, according to Largo police records, because police found 11 pictures of him online displaying 119 Boys hand signals, and because a police officer saw him once with other gang associates, and because he once ran away from a sheriff’s deputy while accompanied by another gang member. “It’s hurtful,” said JRs mother, about her son’s inclusion.

Those facts, for people who are not the boy’s parents, serve as a clear indication that he at a minimum has an interest in local gags and more likely is an associate or member. These are also an indication that the boy’s parents haven’t seen the indicators or have ignored them and denied they are indicators. They are not an indication that the police intended anything to be “hurtful” as that’s not in their job description.

. . . prosecutors use the lists to get higher bail amounts and longer prison sentences. Prosecutors need to prove gang membership to a judge before a harsher sentence can be imposed. Public Defender Bob Dillinger doesn’t like how the lists are used to set higher bail.”You have no way of knowing it (gang member status) is accurate,” Dillinger said. “If the police say it, that’s it.”

No, Mr. Dillinger, you actually have a way to know whether the list is accurate — beyond the police simply “saying it” — it’s the part above where it says “Prosecutors need to prove gang membership to a judge.” That’s how (and why) our justice system works.

If you saw this as a rant, then it’s over. Something had to be said. If you are a parent and want to know what indicators to look for — check out the warning signs.

What do you think?

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!

May 16, 2012

Gangs in Child Welfare

Filed under: gang, gang violence, gangs, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 3:30 pm

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. Webcast viewers can participate by visiting the TCCW web site at 

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

November 30, 2010

Perceptions of gang investigators regarding presence of military trained gang members

The problem addressed was the presence of military-trained gang members in civilian communities. The purpose 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 that presence and the size of their jurisdictions, proximity of jurisdictions to military installations, and extent to which investigators participated in anti-gang activities.

The Military Gang Perception Questionnaire collected responses from the 260 active members of the Tennessee Gang Investigators Association. Respondents reported a mean of 11% of the gang members in their jurisdictions had military training. The Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve were identified as the largest sources of MTGMs, and the Bloods, Crips, and Gangster Disciples were most represented.

There was a statistically significant positive correlation between MTGM presence percent score and jurisdiction size. There was also a statistically significant positive correlation between MTGM presence percent score and the distance from the nearest military installation (computed).

Recommendations included that military leadership conduct cumulative tracking and analysis, and apply an all-hands approach to identifying gang members in the military. When there is a decrease in gang-related activity, solutions should be identified. Military leadership should examine all suspected gang members and policy makers should identify gangs and related groups as Security Threat Groups.

August 6, 2010

Excerpts from Convergence: Special Operations Forces and Civilian Law Enforcement.

Filed under: gang, gang violence, gangs in the military, mara salvatrucha, mexico, ms-13, murder, police — carterfsmith @ 8:20 am

. . . of concern are the types of weapons that are now found on the streets of many cities. For example, in Palm Beach County, Florida, a suspect bailed out of his car after a high-speed chase and successfully evaded capture. The trunk contained full body armor and several weapons, including a customized .50-caliber sniper rifle capable of penetrating the engine block of an automobile. The driver was later determined to be a known assassin wanted by Interpol. The officer’s 9-mm handgun would have been no match should a shootout have occurred.16 Unfortunately, this event can no longer be considered unique. Similarly, fully automatic weapons, though illegal in most jurisdictions, are increasingly getting into the hands of gang members and experienced criminals. (7)

Operating coast to coast in the U.S., Latin American gangs pose a significant threat to local, state, and federal LEAs. The law enforcement operations required to counter these narcoterrorist threats increasingly take on the appearance of military SOF missions. (40)

Of concern to law enforcement is the sophistication of many of these gangs. The old motorcycle gangs, such as the Outlaws and Hells Angels, are alive and well, but have learned to stay below the radar of police agencies. Instead they are entering the business world in both white and gray enterprises. Working in white collar crime is less conspicuous, and members who cross the line and attract attention may face severe penalties. The rule is, “Do not irritate law enforcement.” 115 However, as the cartel gangs become more active, it is highly likely that friction will occur between them and the older, more established gangs.

Since drugs are the primary funding source for terrorism, eruptions of violence are increasingly likely to take place in American cities. Currently, much of the competition for drug markets produces intergang violence, which does occasionally involve injury or deaths of innocent bystanders. While undesirable, such situations are manageable by existing LEAs. However, if
significant escalation occurs and/or the advent of terrorist attacks in which the actors strike multiple targets with the intent on holding buildings of other facilities, then it may be necessary to consider employing SOF elements domestically. Posse Comitatus Act, acknowledged, it would be better to contemplate these options now rather than being called in after the event
has unfolded. It is the expansion of the drug cartels that could easily force such a scenario. (41)

Note that the criminal activities of MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang have risen to the level to attract Congressional attention. The revolving-door aspects of these repeat offenders in narcotrafficking are of great concern.166 Part of scoping this problem is understanding that 20,000 violent street, motorcycle, and prison gangs are operating in the U.S. today.167 According to FBI statistics, that number equates to at least one million gang members; and they engage in a wide range of crimes including robbery, home invasions, identity theft, extortion, and illegal narcotics.168
Listed by the FBI, the largest gangs are as follows:
a. 18th Street Gang—30,000 to 50,000 members in the U.S.
b. Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation
c. Asian Boyz—2,000 members, mostly Vietnamese and Cambodian
e. Bloods—30,000 members in 123 cities
f. Crips—30,000 to 35,000 members in 221 cities
g. Florencia 13—3,000 members, a Mexican gang in Southern California
h. Fresno Bulldogs—5,000 to 6,000 members in Central California
i. Gangster Disciples—25,000 to 50,000 members in 31 states
j. Latin Disciples—2,000 members
k. Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)—50,000 members worldwide, 10,000 in
the U.S.
l. Sureños and Norteños—a Latino prison confederation
m. Tango Blast—14,000 member in Texas prisons
n. Tiny Rascal Gangsters—5,000 to 10,000 members, considered the
most violent Asian gang
o. United Blood Nation—7,000 to 15,000, started in Rikers prison in
New York
p. Vice Lord Nation—30,000 to 35,000 members.
All of these gangs have members who have been in the military.169 When they return to their gangs on the street, their knowledge of weapons and tactics poses a significant threat to LEAs. While having gang members in the military is not new, according to the FBI, the trend is increasing and the population density is above what is found in the civilian sector.170 An
estimated 2 percent of military members have gang affiliation. Despite background security checks, it must be assumed that some number of these members are attracted to, and have become members of, SOF units. (67)
The internal use of military forces, beyond those contemplated in Posse Comitatus, are foreseeable. Groups concerned with stemming illegal immigration have already called,
sending troops to the border. The impact of international gangs, along with instability along the Mexican border, and known infiltration of that zone by terrorists from the Middle East could precipitate a necessity to act. The key factors will be the capabilities of domestic law enforcement and perceived threat to security by the American public. If LEA capabilities to resolve critical situations are exceeded, and Americans feel personally threatened,
the Government may approve use of the military in ways rarely thought about. Should such a situation arise, SOF elements would likely be engaged.

Alexander, John B. (2010). Convergence: Special Operations Forces and Civilian Law Enforcement. Joint Special Operations University. Report 10-6, July 2010. Retrieved from

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