February 6, 2009

Gangs. That’s our topic. There may be a gang operating right in your neighborhood or city or town. The FBI knows that gangs can be serious threats to communities. In coordination with the National Drug Intelligence Center, the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center just released the National Gang Threat Summary.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello, I’m Neal Schiff, and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. Gangs. That’s our topic. There may be a gang operating right in your neighborhood or city or town. The FBI knows that gangs can be serious threats to communities. In coordination with the National Drug Intelligence Center, the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center just released the National Gang Threat Summary.

Mr. Brunton: “ An increase in gang membership from up to a million gang members.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s FBI Special Agent Mike Brunton. He’s the Chief of the National Gang Intelligence Center.

Mr. Brunton: “Fifty-eight percent of state and local law enforcement agencies report that criminal gangs are now active in their jurisdictions in 2008; and that’s compared with 45 percent in 2004. The migration obviously we’re seeing, gangs migrate from urban areas to suburban areas and rural communities. A lot of the reason for that is increased enforcement activities in larger cities; jobs; construction; and different kinds of jobs that they are involved with. And in some communities gangs commit as much as 80 percent of crime according to the law enforcement officers that we spoke with.”

Mr. Schiff: Brunton says drugs are one of the draws to some neighborhoods.

Mr. Brunton: “Most gangs are involved in that, but they’re also involved in alien smuggling, armed robbery, assaults, auto thefts, extortions, frauds, home invasions, weapons trafficking. Just a myriad of different kind of criminal activities.”

Mr. Schiff: The National Gang Threat Summary covers a wide range of findings and Brunton says that the information is vital and extremely helpful to police officers around the country.

Mr. Brunton: “What it will do it will them a snapshot of what’s going on in their region; it’s broken down regionally. And it will also give them what we see as trends coming up in the near future that they can keep an eye for. It gets our name out there a little bit and it gives them a place to contact if they should need help on a particular gang issue.”

Mr. Schiff: We asked Brunton if gangs are or can be considered terrorists.

Mr. Brunton: “No. Gangs, criminal street gangs, and we need to make the distinction here, that when we speak of gangs, most gangs are local, criminal street gangs, they’re not national-level street gangs. So, the 15th Street Boys are in that neighborhood and that’s the biggest problem right there, so they’re not considered terrorists but criminal street gangs.”

Mr. Schiff: Brunton also says that gangs are not only in the big cities but moving to the suburbs to wreak havoc on citizens.

Mr. Brunton: “They are. They’re migrating to the smaller, more rural and suburban areas. There’s a number of reasons for that. Some of it has to do with prisons; when they get out of prison. If they’re in a particular area they tend to stay there; they have a family member that moves to a particular area for a job or whatever. So the gang member will move there.”

Mr. Schiff: We asked Brunton how the FBI and other police agencies are attacking the gang problem, and they are out there 24/7 working on it.

Mr. Brunton: “Well the law enforcement goal is to obviously make communities a safer place to live. If you have a gang in your neighborhood, it makes it kind of undesirable: you don’t want to live there. Some of the ways we’re combating them is there are a number of task forces that the federal government has along with state and local. The FBI has Safe Street Task Forces which we work with state and local police officers; ATF has Project Safe Neighborhoods that they work with state and local police officers; DEA has Met Teams that they deploy to high gang activity areas. So there’s a number of task force-type initiatives that the federal government uses in conjunction with state and local police officers.”

Mr. Schiff: There are gang problems is New Jersey and the FBI is on it. Special Agent John Havens is assigned to the FBI’s Newark office.

Mr. Havens: “One particular Safe Streets Task Force we have in our division is a combination of FBI Agents, there’s Newark Police Officers, Essex County Sheriff’s Deputies, members of the Essex County Prosecutors’ Office, the Cranford Police Department, there’s members from the Irvington Police Department, the East Orange Police Department, and the Essex County Department of Public Safety. So everybody is able to bring their resources together because everybody has a different piece of the puzzle to combat the gang problem.”

Mr. Schiff: Who makes up these gangs? Havens has some thoughts on that.

Mr. Havens: “When the gang problem really started to get large in this division was the late 90s, and at that time the gang membership was a lot younger. Now a lot of those people that started in the gang life are the older people who are running the gangs. So we see a lot of people on the street who are leaders or hold status positions within the gang, being in their mid- to late-20s; with guys who are in prison doing significant prison terms who are O.Gs, or original gangsters, who are the figureheads, or call the shots for the gang overall. They might be in the 30s to 40s. Then on the street it can go down to as young as 13 or 14 years old, just doing the day-to-day activities of the gang.”

Mr. Schiff: Havens says that he has seen kids younger than that hanging around gang members and being recruited.

Mr. Havens: “Where the gang members will allow them to hold their money or hold the drugs. That way if the police stop the gang member, they’re not going to lose their money or their drugs. And over a period of time they start to teach the juveniles the codes and the signs and teach them how to dress like gang members and then they work their way into the gang.”

Mr. Schiff: Sharing information and working together. So important in the fight against crime. Havens says police and the FBI are side-by-side with facts and figures, constantly on the move with all sides on the receiving end.

Mr. Havens: “Oh absolutely. It tears down artificial walls when people work shoulder-to-shoulder on the same problem.”

Mr. Schiff: There’s no shortage of gang cases at the Newark FBI Field Office. Havens is a very busy agent with gang crimes.

Mr. Havens: “Murders; shootings; home invasion robberies; weapons trafficking where gang members will bring handguns into New Jersey from other states; extortion; sometimes it’s extortion of stores in the gang’s neighborhood, or citizens in the gang’s neighborhood. Sometimes it’s extortion of other drug gangs where other drug gangs have to pay the gang members for the rights to sell drugs. Generally, a lot of the violent crimes are done in support of their drug distribution network. However, we also found recently where we’ve had gang members committing frauds, such as house flipping, where when they realize that they’re generating a lot of the money from drug distribution, people are showing them how to get into these real estate frauds in order to launder their money somewhat. And they’ve also been delving out into prostitution by taking over existing prostitution rings through strong-arm tactics as they realize the amount of cash that’s involved in that activity. So basically anywhere they see the possibility of making illicit money, we’ve found them.”

Mr. Schiff: You can help combat the gang problem. You don’t have to get involved for sure. That could be very dangerous. But keep your eyes and ears open. Look for gang graffiti and be aware of what your children are up to and who their friends are and where they go with their friends. Havens says awareness is the key.

Mr. Havens: “As the gang members start to recruit younger and younger members, it becomes more important to intervene at that stage before it becomes a law enforcement problem. So I’d say the most important thing a member of the public could do would be to get involved in their community to help prevent someone from becoming a gang member.”

Mr. Schiff: Help yourself and help your children. Check out the National Gang Threat Summary and the FBI’s role in rounding up gangs to make your neighborhoods safer. It’s all at That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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