Police Academy cracks down on gangs

By Lindsay Carroll

‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ This is the third installment in a series of reports from Lindsay Carroll, who enrolled… ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ This is the third installment in a series of reports from Lindsay Carroll, who enrolled in the Citizens’ Police Academy, a 15-week training course run by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. ‘ ‘ ‘ With each PowerPoint slide Detective Ashley Thompson showed the Citizens’ Police Academy, he revealed another new Pittsburgh gang ‘mdash; its color, its clothing, its symbol, its name. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Criminal Intelligence Unit tracks 44 active gangs in Pittsburgh and knows 850 of their members, Thompson said. Police officers are assigned to separate zones, consisting of several neighborhoods. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Although he said there is no police ‘gang unit,’ Thompson said the Criminal Intelligence Unit identifies Pittsburgh gangs and compiles intelligence to educate officers. Analyses of criminal activity, such as Thompson’s PowerPoint, are based on community and police reports of gang activity. Gangs of Pittsburgh ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘There is no national definition of ‘gang,’ which makes it hard for us,’ said Thompson. ‘Pennsylvania does not have any gang laws on the books.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Thompson defines a gang as a group of three or more people who share a common identity, use symbols to promote that identity and commit crimes together. He said many are young ‘mdash; younger than 18 ‘- and motivated by neighborhood and ethnic loyalties. Historically, gangs of the past were not as dangerous as modern gangs, he said. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Thompson said Western Pennsylvania has less gang activity than other parts of the state. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We’ve been relatively lucky in Pittsburgh,’ said Thompson. ‘[Compared to] anywhere from Lancaster to Philadelphia, we don’t see nearly what they see.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Gangs tend to form because their members want power, status, love or money, said Thompson. The gang might seem to provide security and a sense of family. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ But being in a gang generally means getting involved with drug-trafficking, gun-dealing, drive-by shootings, armed robbery and burglaries, carjackings and murder. They want to produce fear in their communities, said Thompson. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Many of the Pittsburgh street gangs are based on the Crips and the Bloods, two rival gangs that formed in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. Thompson said that in Pittsburgh, 18 gangs are Crips, nine are Bloods and 17 are independent. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ These local versions are not as organized as these national gangs rooted in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles, according to a February article by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Thompson said that in Pittsburgh, the shootings seen on the news tend to revolve around issues with girlfriends and bad drug deals. They are not as turf-related as in bigger cities. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ There are no documented all-female or Hispanic gangs in Pittsburgh, said Thompson. Typically, women are involved in gangs as ‘associates,’ who generally have a clean record and may provide housing or other amenities for gang members. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Currently, there are no recorded street gangs in Oakland. The South Oakland Crips were suspected to be the cause of shootings and bank robberies as recently as 2005. However, Thompson said that most of these gang members either died or went to jail. ‘ ‘ ‘ Thompson said it’s possible that relatives and friends of the group could resurface in South Oakland. Signs and symbols ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Gangs tend to use certain styles of clothing, colors, tattoos and graffiti to identify themselves. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Most graffiti, Thompson said, is not gang-related. ‘Piece’ graffiti, elaborate works of art or simple tags of a name in cursive, are not necessarily gang related. ‘ ‘ ‘ Gang graffiti will generally be used as communication. It may have numbers, an address or symbols with it. It may commemorate a dead gang member by saying ‘G.I.P.,’ or Gangster In Peace, or ‘C.I.P.,’ Crips In Peace. If the member belongs to the Crips or Bloods, they may cross out certain letters or use numbers in their place, because they do not want to use letters that are in the names of their rivals. ‘ ‘ ‘ Thompson said gang-related graffiti often shows up within boundaries of a gang’s turf, shortly before criminal activity occurs in the area. It can be used to put a contract on a member of another gang or challenge rivals. ‘ ‘ ‘ Bandanas and sportswear can translate into a powerful symbol for a gang member. Often, when the gang gets together or commits a crime, they will show their colors to let other gangs know who they are. They may wear a red bandana in their back pocket, or a certain sports team’s jersey if it shares their colors or letters in their name. ‘ ‘ ‘ Of course, not all people who have red bandanas or wear jerseys are necessarily gang members. Thompson said the best ways to identify gangs is for community members to report suspicious activity or to hold block watches. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘That’s how we do it,’ said Thompson. ‘It’s partly the police and partly the community.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Thompson said the system depends on two-way communication. People with a tip or questions on gangs or suspicious activity can call the police for feedback. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Trusting your instincts, doing something and telling someone’ can prevent crime and terrorism, said Thompson. ‘You guys may know your neighborhoods better than we do.’