The Gang Stop: Safer and More Efficient Field Interviews
Photo courtesy: Sgt. Lou Savelli
Sergeant Lou Savelli
Ask any gang investigator worth his or her badge and he or she will tell you: “Whether you are in the streets or down a cell block, when it comes to conducting field interviews with gangsters, you’ll probably be outnumbered most of the time.” On a busy street corner, in your city or town’s gang turf, gangsters seldom travel or hang out alone. And that cell block in your prison or jail, besides being home turf for several gangs, will be home to other criminals who just don’t like COPS!
Oh! By the way, my definition of the word, COPS is Corrections, Officers like Probation and Parole, Police and Federal Agents, and Sheriffs. (Quote me!)
Gang Stops, for the purpose of conducting a field interview, are vital and necessary. They can be extremely productive. While conducting hundreds, if not, thousands of gang stops, myself, I recall that each stop was productive. Whether recovering a weapon, apprehending a wanted gangster, documenting an association between gangsters, interruption a drive-by shooting or gang fight, recording a gang member at a specific time, place and location, or just another opportunity to develop rapport, they were all fruitful. In order to make that Gang Stop safer, and to conduct a more efficient field interview, a COP must follow the FIELD INTERVIEW rules:
Fools, only, rush in!
Evaluate the situation
Look around and be alert!
Distance, Demeanor, Detain
Interview, don’t interrogate!
Notice the body language!
Take mental & written notes!
Entertain your audience!
Rapport must be developed!
Validate your authority
Initiate an action or exit authoritatively!
Effect arrest if safe and necessary!
Watch what happens after you leave!
Fools, only, rush in
Why not quote Elvis! He’s right! Rushing into any situation, regardless of the number of persons, is foolish and unsafe. In every field stop situation, an immediate assessment should be initiated. Visually scan the subjects of your intended stop and scan the surrounding area. Determine how many subjects are involved. Determine how many gang members are present. Consider which gang is involved. Is this gang exceptionally hostile toward cops? Are they at war with another gang? Has this gang been recently involved in a crime that they know has come to the attention of the cops? Could they believe that you are there to make an arrest or take official action?
Involve back-up, when necessary and possible!
Truly, there is safety in numbers. Gangsters will always size you up and consider the odds of them winning a fight, especially against a cop! If you can delay making a field stop until back up arrives or there are more officers available, do it! Safety is THE priority!
Evaluate the situation!
Remember, each situation is different. You must evaluate the necessity of the field stop, the safety factors involved (number of subjects, back-up, weapons, surroundings, etc…), the potential for violence, the gang’s present state of mind, their propensity for violent behavior and your ability to safely and efficiently conduct the stop. Making a field stop in the middle of a prison yard just after a fight between rival gangs will be risky because the gangsters are pumped up and ready to save face – even if it means attacking a cop. If the stop can’t be done safely, don’t do it! If your evaluation of the situation warrants a field stop, and you can do so safely, conduct the stop, but adhere to the next few rules.
Look around and be alert!
Look around, be alert and continue your alertness until you are safely away from any potential danger. With most criminals, and especially with gangsters, an attack on a cop can come from anywhere. In fact, most gangs practice officer disarming techniques and takedowns (called takeouts) to take out a cop when they deem it necessary. The Latin Kings, for example, developed a cop takedown called the 5 Point Attack in which the gangsters discreetly surround an officer engaged in a field stop of a fellow gang member. The gangsters form a five-pointed formation, in the shape of a five point star, around the officer. While the original gang member, who is being interviewed maintains the officer’s attention, the other gang members move in. When everyone is in position, the officer is grabbed from the rear, then from the sides until he is taken down to the ground and disarmed. In many cases, his weapon will be used against him. Remember, always be cognizant of your surroundings and the actions of those around you.
Distance, Demeanor, and Detain
You should determine the distance by approaching the gangsters. If you let them approach you, you will have to retreat a bit if the distance they choose is unsafe. Your approach will give you time and opportunity to assess the gangsters you are stopping. Establishing a safe distance is extremely important. Maintaining a safe distance from those you have stopped will keep potential attackers away for a few reasons. Most attacks are usually planned or considered before the stop is made. Other attacks are spur of the moment and based upon the interaction during the stop. An attacker will not be able to immediately overpower you if you maintain a safe distance and show that you are guarded and ready for an attack. Your demeanor during a stop is equally important. Conducting yourself in a guarded, professional, and ready manner will make gangsters understand that you are in control of the field stop and prepared for anything. There are many situations, when dealing with gangsters during field stops, that is will be necessary and good procedure to physically detain the gangsters with the use of handcuffs. These situations arise when the safety of the officers, and the gangsters themselves, will be increased by handcuffing those persons stopped. Such situations will include the stop of multiple gang members, the stop of gang members from rival gangs at the same location, situations in which you feel your safety is at risk or those situations in which you suspect weapons are involved or a crime has been, or is being, committed.