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 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 

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 –

May 13, 2010

Gangs in the Military

Filed under: adult gang, gang, gangs in the military, home invasion, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 8:53 am

Gangs in the Military

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By Norma Yuriar

Tulare County, Calif. (KMPH News) — Honor, respect and duty to country – three reasons why many valley soldiers are proud to serve, but some recruits are using war tactics they learn in the combat zone on their enemies here in the central valley. One local soldier speaks to KMPH News about his experience and the day he came face to face with a rival gang member in military base in Germany.

“My rank is Staff Sergeant, active Army — Walter Huerta,” before Staff Sgt. Huerta was representing red, white and blue he was claiming, a different shade — the color of a notorious gang in Tulare County.

“My teenage life was basically all gang banging.”

The 26–year old grew up in Orosi and spent most of his teenage years on probation, expelled from school for fighting, busted for selling drugs and left his mark all over town as a member of the Norteno Criminal Street Gang.

“It finally came down to the point where – at the time my girlfriend was pregnant – and I ended up over–dosing on Meth. I was rushed to the hospital; it was a wake up call. It took a near death experience for me to make a grown–up decision to join the military and get out of here and so that’s what I did,” Huerta said.

For the first time in 17–years, Huerta says he felt like he was heading on the right path.

“When I finally finished basic training, I got to my unit in Germany,” but even overseas, his former life was staring right back.

“I get there and he looks at me up and down and he tells me, where are you from?”

The young soldier (seventeen at the time) was placed in the same platoon as a rival gang member.

“He told me – hey, I don’t like you. I said you can like me or not, but I’m going to be with you for the next three years of our life,” Huerta said. “The next thing I know is we are outside and we are fighting, two American soldiers in Germany and we fighting each other.”

Although, Huerta was ready to make changes for the better – others gang members were not. Like in the case of 19–year old Andres Raya, an active–duty Marine and suspected gang member. Investigators say Raya used “military–style shooting” to kill a police officer near Modesto in 2005.

Sgt. Howard Stevenson, a 23–year veteran of the Ceres Police Department didn’t have a chance.

“In this case, this guy was a killer hiding in a United States Marine Corps Uniform,” Retired Ceres Police Officer Sam Ryno said.

Raya was cornered and killed in a firefight with officers. Because of this incident – five years ago — law enforcement agencies across the valley are training their officers to respond to a new kind of threat; gangster with military expertise.

“Our swat teams consistently have ongoing training in urban warfare, mountainous warfare and tactical training in situations just like that – the disadvantage to law enforcement is that they are becoming familiar with defensible tactics that we would use when confronted with a threatening situation,” Tulare County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Mike Boudreaux said.

The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department is beefing up efforts to combat growing gang violence. Capt. Boudreaux says deputies are seeing more modified weapons on the streets “…only those that are familiar with how to dismantle or rearrange the weaponry are those that are coming out of the military with that type of training.”

Sgt. Huerta says soldiers don’t hide their gang affiliation when they’re overseas or even on base.

“I saw a little youngster one time, I could tell he just got out of basic training and he had a blue rag hanging out of his pocket and we are on military post. I said do you really need to go out with that blue rag hanging out of your pocket? You understand you’re in the military now, you joined the military to get out of that.”

US Army Recruiter Staff Sgt. Jarrell Smith says standards to enlist are getting stricter.

“We don’t what that in the United States Army either and so we try to weed them out the best we can to prevent those guys from getting into the US Army and corrupting our organization,” Smith said.

Anyone with a “gang” or “hatred” tattoo can not join and felony charges are also out of the question. But, there are cracks in every system.

“There really isn’t a way to keep them out,” Smith said. “If they have markings, like tattoos that’s how we can tell and we do a background check, there is always some way for us to tell if you have some sort of affiliation.”

As for Staff Sgt. Huerta — he and that rival gang member in the same platoon, they are now best friends spreading the same message.

“I would say the Army definitely saved my life because the path that I was on, it was going no where and it was going no where fast.”

Huerta’s big brother Joshua, a Gang Counselor in Tulare County agrees.

“Yes, definitely that’s what happened, once he got opportunity. He was already born into it. He was a soldier from birth. He’s allowing the people of California to gang bang because he’s fighting for your freedom, there’s a real enemy out there – the people that are trying to destroy the US.”

Staff Sgt. Huerta says he wants to become a gang officer when he retires from the U.S. Army in three years.


March 7, 2010

Question and Answer on responses to Gangs

Filed under: gang, gangs, middle tennessee, nashville, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 11:29 am

1. What should schools do about gangs?

School leaders need to be able to treat gangs as they would any other group of people that threaten the safety of the students. In the elementary, middle, and high schools, youth who are involved with gangs will often be disruptive or divisive in the classroom. Teachers must be able to respond with respect while still controlling the situation. The School Resource Officers are trained to identify problems — including the presence of gangs. Work with them. Don’t let the kids in the school be terrorized by gang members — protect them.

2. What should parents do to keep their kids out of gangs?

Parents need to fight the tendency to think “my child would never join a gang” and act as if they want to do everything in their power to keep that from happening. This applies to parents at all socio-economic levels. Parents need to teach their children discipline and respect and the boldness to express individuality. If you sense that your child has something they don’t belong having in their possession (gang attire, paraphernalia, guns, knives, drugs, etc.) ask them about it and then follow up by looking through their possessions — no matter what they think about it. Gangs are not a minor illness that will go away with time. They are a poison that will kill people. If a police officer suspects your child is in a gang — don’t start by denying it, start by trying to see why it might look that way.

Act like a parent — not a lawyer.

Demand that the local school system stop tolerating the presence of gang members in the schools. Call your elected representatives and public servants regularly and voice your concerns. There are gangs in many of the public schools in Middle Tennessee — stop sitting idly by and letting them establish a presence in the schools. If the people we vote for and pay to run the schools won’t work to keep gangs from taking over the schools — replace them.

3. What should youths who are being recruited to be in a gang do?

If members of a gang try to recruit you — make it clear that you are not interested. It is possible to be respectful while declining an offer to join or even affiliate with the gang. These people will act as if they will be your best friends and yet what they will do is help you ruin your life. Gang members rarely become productive citizens and when they do it is only after they leave the gang – many are dead before they are old enough to be parents. If you don’t know what you want to do with your life — it’s better to do nothing than to join a gang (even if they don’t call themselves a “gang”).

4. What should members of the community (police, churches, neighborhood groups, etc.) do about gangs?

Community leaders need to respond to gangs as if they are poisonous to the welfare and safety of all members of the community — because they are. The gang mentality is being shared through movies, music, and Internet communication methods, and will reach the youth. Members of the community need to be vigilant in their search for indicators of gang activity and find things for the youth to do other than “hanging out” with a bunch of thugs. Avoid denial at all costs — if someone acts like they are in a gang they probably are. There’s no need to support what others are doing when what they are doing hurts them and everyone that comes in contact with them. Being a gang member is not a protected class of society – treat gangs like you want them to go away — and they will.

Carter Smith is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and a founding board member of the Tennessee Gang Investigators Association (TNGIA). MTSU and TNGIA are co-hosting a Youth Gang – Organized Crime Symposium March 11-13, 2010. The event is open to the public. For more information, visit

More at The Tennessean.

March 4, 2010

Gang Activity in Middle Tennessee

Filed under: gang, middle tennessee, nashville, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 11:23 am

Interview snippets throughout the Tennessean articles this week:

Low-level gang members barely make pocket change, said Carter Smith, a gang expert and assistant professor in the criminal justice department at Middle Tennessee State University.

Compare the structure of a gang to a fast-food restaurant. The local manager doesn’t make much, but the guy who owns three or four McDonald’s can do pretty well.

“The bottom line is it’s business,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of what risk you’re willing to take.”

Carter Smith, a parent and gang expert who lives in Franklin and works as a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, said parents who think their kids are immune because they live in an upscale neighborhood or don’t fit the typical gang-member profile may be at risk of losing their sons or daughters to gangs.

People in a gang may target them because they have a car, they have money, and they have accesses to places the members of the gang may not have,” Smith said.

February 22, 2010

Panel Discussion – Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, San Diego, California

Filed under: adult gang, youth gang — carterfsmith @ 2:01 pm

Thursday, February 25, 2010
3:30 PM – 4:45 PM
Moderator: Carter F. Smith, Middle Tennessee State University
Discussants: Gregg W. Etter, University of Central Missouri;
D. Lee Gilbertson, Saint Cloud State University;
Jeffery Rush, Austin Peay State University;
Al Valdez, University of California – Irvine

Blog at