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Investigating Youth Violence

Written by Al Kasper

Youth violence, gangs and drugs are serious issues facing school administrators, parents and students. They are a clear and present danger to our society and adversely impact the quality of life within our schools and communities.

Indianapolis has a well-documented population of Folk and People Nation gangs, as well as hybrid street gangs, dominating the city’s landscape with more than 15 identified branches of each rooted in Pike Township.

The Pike Township School Corp. is not immune to the infiltration of youth violence. Each year the number of disturbance, battery, narcotic, and verified gang activity reports taken by police on and off school property continues to increase. Juvenile gang members who have been suspended or expelled from school with the extra time on their hands are increasingly involved in home and business burglaries and robberies.

These criminal activities affect the schools and the community as a whole and often go unsolved due to shear numbers and the gang code of silence. Often based upon local laws and politics, it is difficult to have juvenile crimes prosecuted in a way that it deters others from committing a criminal offense. Many times, you will find a juvenile offender with multiple burglary arrests who is on back to back probation for these offenses.

The Metropolitan School District (M.S.D) of Pike Township Police Department has adopted an aggressive stance toward addressing youth crime, violence, and gang involvement among school-age children within the school district and surrounding community.

A zero tolerance for gang activity, graffiti, “colors,” apparel, signs and symbols is strictly enforced at all levels. Gathering of intelligence is a police officers’ number one weapon against gangs. Even with the code of silence that many gangs claim they have, it is amazing the amount of information that can be gained from a historical-based investigative approach.

Gathering information on local gangs operating in your area has become much easier with the Internet, MySpace, FaceBook and other online social networking sites (OSN). Many identified gang members have several OSN sites in which they openly admit their gang affiliation and criminal activities.

By actively pursuing intelligence gathered from OSN sites to assist in the investigative and prosecutorial process, several investigations were solved by obtaining information specifically from the suspect’s OSN pages. Often gang members brag, document and provide much-needed intelligence to law enforcement through these OSN. In fact, quite often they let law enforcement know exactly what type of crimes they are involved in through pictures.

A simplistic and a specific target outline was created to narrow the focus to one identified gang at a time, so as not to have anyone overwhelmed either during the intelligence or investigative phases. This outline created seven specifically targeted phases that encompass intelligence, investigative, prosecutorial and smoothly transition into additional proactive investigative operations.

Phase 1

This is a general intelligence-gathering period. A target gang is identified, and any information pertaining to this gang is gathered from multiple sources. Juvenile youth gangs are best identified by and through the schools since they have daily contact with the hard core members and the “wannabes.” This process could include a teaching phase to school administrators and teachers as to what to look for and the identifiers of a local gang.

Often school personnel see things that they attribute to “fads” and fail to recognize or understand the importance of this “fad” to a gang. An attempt should be made to obtain any school records, including incident reports and photographs, documenting the gang’s existence or activities. Ask to see yearbooks and school newspapers to determine if any of the photographs show gang members throwing signs or wearing gang apparel.

Identify a Target Gang

Select a criminal gang to target. Obtain as much information as possible regarding the gang, including name; area of operation; general criminal activities and known incidents of criminal conduct; hierarchy; identifying characteristics, such as colors, hand signs, words, numbers, logos, symbols or images used by the gang or its members; allied groups and individuals; and rival groups and individuals.

Phase 2

We begin to collect specific target information on individual gang members. This phase is where close coordination with the school(s) becomes extremely important for current information. Prior juvenile records must be searched to obtain historical information, as well as any current / pending cases against the suspected gang member.

Identify members of the gang. Obtain as much information as possible for each gang member including aliases, role within the gang, date of birth, last known residence, names of parents, siblings and associates, vehicle descriptions, plate numbers and reports from any prior incidents at the school or schools, the suspected gang member has.

Phase 3

During this phase, it is helpful to have someone who has experience and knowledge of the OSN and various Internet sites. There are several ways that this information can be collected, but you must remember that if you are collecting it for court presentation, you meet the local prosecutor’s requirements, which vary widely.

Coordinating with a cyber crime unit and asking for training can eliminate problems down the road with properly documenting your electronic evidence, as well as assisting you in the preparing the preservation request to the appropriate site(s). The second portion of this phase is relatively easy because we are only collecting the historical reports found on each identified gang member.

Obtain intelligence from online social networking (OSN) websites. Identify web pages on MySpace, FaceBook and other online social networking sites maintained by or related to the gang and its members. Prevent the deletion of the pages with a preservation request sent to the custodian of records for the site.

Subpoena the pages. The type of subpoena you should use depends on whether the person you believe created, maintains or uses the page has an open criminal case with any charge that might be related to the content of the OSN page. You may complete a grand jury subpoena request form if the suspected gang member DOES NOT have related pending cases. A deputy prosecuting attorney will need to complete a third party request for production if the suspected gang member DOES have a related pending case.

Pull all prior police reports mentioning the suspected gang member(s). For a variety of reasons, many police reports do not result in criminal charges even though they could with additional investigation. Assuming the offense is a felony, we have up to five years from the commission of the offense to file the case.

Phase 4

This phase is when you must do the majority of your work and be able to review court records in some way. Close coordination with a dedicated prosecutor is very helpful so that filed cases can be quickly discarded along with any pending cases. A thorough review of those cases found that were not filed must be done by both the investigator and the prosecutor to determine which ones would result in a successful filing.

Often non-filed cases were either overlooked or require a very limited amount of additional investigation to result in a successful prosecution. With the assistance of the prosecutor these cases can then be easily prioritized and completed. Before proceeding, we need to eliminate police reports that have already resulted in criminal charges or appear unlikely to result in criminal charges. The remaining cases should be prioritized.

Phase 5

This phase follows a typical investigative process. The only difference is you might be completing or validating in investigation conducted by another officer / detective. Constant reviews of incoming case reports are important during this phase to collect additional charges or intelligence on your target.

Prior to beginning the investigative phase, consideration should be made to releasing your target list to your street officers and detectives. Along with this release you should brief roll calls on your investigation and what it is you are attempting to accomplish. It is amazing how much additional information is obtained during these briefings from the street officers who often come in contact with these gang members on a daily basis.

The information obtained during these briefings can quickly tie cases, members and incidents together and immediately show a pattern of association, crimes, hang outs, vehicles and other tidbits of information. Also, a decision should be made as to how real-time intelligence will be gathered.

During this phase of the operation, gang members obviously will continue their criminal and non-criminal activities. To obtain real-time intelligence detectives / investigators should be on call for consultation or a callout if necessary to collect intelligence or to conduct an on-site interview.

These steps can quickly lead you into Phase 6 of this investigative operation. When faced with an avenue of escape, often gang members will take that avenue when it is presented. You must ensure that you strike while the iron is hot and conduct the follow-up immediately and don’t give them the chance to consider the gang ramifications should they flip.

Complete Investigations

Complete the necessary investigative process for each case. Review incoming cases for additional charges or intelligence. Provide a target list. Brief street officers / detectives on the operation. Respond as necessary.

In the case of juvenile offenders in our jurisdiction, we are able to make a direct filing to the adult prosecutor for Criminal Gang Activity if the juvenile is 16 years of age or older and we can show that the crime was in furtherance of the gang. This little surprise can result in a cooperative witness for clearing other open investigations or to gain additional intelligence on your target gang or members.

Obviously, based upon the cooperation of identified suspects, you should be able to initiate some proactive investigations on the gang and its members.

This investigative process can be time consuming and seem to be more work than it is worth, but the payoff can result in shutting down a gang or at least curbing its criminal activities. Some aspects of this investigative process might take a little more technical skills than some detectives / investigators might have in regards to the OSN websites.

If this is the case, you might consider asking the assistance or training from a cyber-crimes team. As the investigation(s) progress you, will find that many times one piece of intelligence will link several targets together, and a clear and precise mosaic will begin to develop.

Al Kasper has been in law enforcement for more than 30 years and is currently the chief of the M.S.D. Pike Township School Police.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2009

Rating : 1.5


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