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Citizens Police Academy-week 7: gangs

Aside from terrorists, it seems that few things strike fear into our hearts like teenagers sporting “colors” and guns. Last week, after brief introductions to the FCPD’s Explorer and Cadet programs, and an overview of the School Resource Officers (cops in middle and high schools), a detective from the gang squad stopped by.

Here are my takeaways from the detective’s talk:

  • In general—at least in Fairfax County—most criminal activity is perpetrated on other gang members, especially the violent crimes.
    • Robbery/burglary is an exception
    • Graffiti is the most common gang-related crime in the county
  • There are two types of graffiti. That perpetrated by taggers, and that done by gangs.
    • Tagger graffiti is very artistic, often bubbly, and hard to read. It’s more about expression and the thrill than about marking territory or sending a message.
    • Gang graffiti is generally simple and legible, and is used for one of the following purposes:
      • Roll call: a list of gang members names (usually nicknames)
      • Identification of alliances: lets other gangs know that two or more gangs have formed an alliance
      • Declare war: show which gangs are fighting
      • Tribute: to pay tribute to a dead member(s) or to warn that someone’s marked for death
    • Detectives follow the gang graffiti closely to get insight on what’s going on in the gang world. They also photograph it for later reference and comparison.
  • Due to police awareness of tattoos, colors, hand signs, and gang paraphernalia, trends in all of these are constantly evolving. Lately detectives have noticed a reduction in the tattoos, especially those on the face/neck.
    • Gangs now post YouTube videos with catchy rap songs and dances, intended to help with recruitment.
    • Gang members often use FaceBook to keep in touch and recruit (and sometimes to get caught by the cops!)
  • Why do kids get involved?
    • To fill a void at home.
    • They grew up in a gang family and don’t know anything else.
      • Some of the photos he showed of babies and toddlers dressed in gang colors and throwing signs or holding guns were heartbreaking.
      • Siblings/parents in a gang serve as a role model.
    • Peer pressure
    • Status
    • Money
    • Drugs
    • Adrenaline rush
  • Gangs are everywhere, even the suburbs and smaller cities, though politicians often won’t acknowledge the problem until it gets out of hand. This is bad because that means they’re not putting up the resources to fight it either.
  • Proven methods for dealing with gangs include: partnerships with the Feds, deportation for illegals involved in gang activity, snitching (as mentioned before, most criminals will talk), laws that provide stiffer penalties for crimes committed as part of gang activity, gang-related training for cops and school administrators.

For more information on gangs, check out Robert Walker’s Gangs Or Us.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    I’ve often found it hard to believe how close to home gangs can be. We were living in a suburb of DC right up against the University of Maryland, and yet when I took my clothes to the laundromat, it wasn’t full of students, it was full of hispanic teens in colors. U of M is a lovely campus, and generally a safe place, but go a few blocks out and it’s not such a great part of town. Even a mile from the Pentagon there were gang problems.

    P.S. Happy Easter. 🙂

    • Reply

      I know, Kali. Like the guy said, they’re everywhere. I felt it a lot more when we lived in Tucson. It seemed like gangs were on the news every night (that was 15 years ago), though most of it was concentrated on certain parts of town. And I think maybe there wasn’t a lot of other news to fill a half hour with back then. 😉

      Happy Easter to you too!

  2. Curtis


    I have a photo collection of tags from box cars that come and go from an easily accessible siding.

    Recently, I have also seen Tags on the sides of tractor trailer rigs. I guess the boys and girls need to push the risk factor. Nothing edgy now about tagging a box car.

    Climb the fence and tag a dry box on the parking lot of Wal Mart Distribution Center, now there is a rush.

    • Reply

      Ha, yeah, they always have to increase the rush factor, Curtis. Some of the tagger artwork is really quite amazing. Now if they’d turn to something less destructive, that’d be great.

      • Curtis


        I think some of the Tags I have were actually done by art students. The hard edged anger that is as much a part of the Tag as the Tag itself is missing.

        • Reply

          I hadn’t thought of it that way, Curtis, but tagging is essentially a destructive act. Very costly to remove/cover. Anger makes sense to me.

  3. Reply

    I can’t believe the amount of useful stuff you’re learning from this course! The information you’re getting from this research is going to make your WIP completely realistic and educational. So cool!

    • Reply

      I know, Aaron. It’s even better than I expected. I’d want to do this even if I wasn’t writing, but when police-related events comes up in my storyline, I definitely have a better idea of how to approach it.

      Thanks for checking out my site!

  4. Reply

    Yet another great post. Thanks so much again for sharing what you’re learning with the rest of us. Any chance they might cover con artists, identity theft, or organized crime? Or is all that the FBI’s domain?

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