LAT GETS IT RIGHT. AGAIN.
I hope this becomes a habit with the LAT. In today's edition (4/5/04) staff writer RICHARD FAUSSET had a great story on gang communication inside the jail system. He focused mainly on birthday cards sent to inmates by their homies in the same prison and went into considerable detail about how the information in the B-DAY cards (monikers and gang names) help CDC gang officers track gang affiliations and individual's standing in the gangs. Great stuff. Props to Fausset and the editor who assigned him the story. READ it online.
I had a long conversation about this very topic with a CDC gang coordinator about a year ago. At the time, this lieutenant asked that I not run anything about the cards because he feared public knowledge might put a stop to the greeting cards and deprive him of a valuable source of gang information. So I obliged. Now that the cat's out of the bag, I guess I can't get blamed if the cards stop. Which they probably won't.
Here's some specifics and background on how the CDC operates their gang intelligence system. The LAT didn't get into this kind of detail, but we'll give them a pass on it. They can't be expected to deliver this kind of minutiae.
The CDC has an elaborate system of determining an inmate's membership in a street or prison gang. As with any bureacracy, especially one that comes to the attention of defense lawyers and civil rights groups, it has to demonstrate scrupulous attention to detail. In other words, they just can't call an inmate a gang or prison gang member on a whim or by the presence or absence of tattoos or the crimes committed inside or outside of prison. There's paperwork to fill out, the lifeblood of bureaucracies and the law.
The entire process of naming an individual as a gang member is called VALIDATION. And the validation procedure needs to have at least three independent sources. Those three sources have to comply with the 13 items articulated in section 3378 CRITICAL CASE INFORMATION of the CDC operations manual. The 13 items are as follows:
A) Self admission. That's self explanatory.
B) Tattoos and symbols. If you're all inked up with a gang name, that's a strong indicator of membership.
C) Written material. The greeting card would fall under this category.
D) Photographs. If you're in a picture standing with a goup of known gangsters, you may be a gangster.
E) Staff information. If CDC staff sees or hears you, or someone else, implicating you in gang membership.
F) Other agencies. Another agency may cite you as a gangster, but that information itself has to pass scrutiny.
G) Association. Any information that proves your association with validated gangsters.
H) Informants. This is sort of double layered. An informant could name you as a gangster, but that informant himself has to pass through the whole DEBRIEFING process which could take months and months to accomplish. The CDC doesn't just take somebody'd word for it. After all, the informant may have a personal beef with you. I'll post something a little later about the whole debriefing process.
I) Offenses. If the nature of your crime was such that it leads them to think that it was part of gang activity. And this has its own validation and verification procedure.
J) Legal documents. If it was proven in court that you're a prison or street gang member.
K) Visitors. I'll quote the CDC on this one. "Visits from persons who are documented as gang "runners" or community affiliates, or members of an organization which associates with a gang."
L) Communications. This includes phone taps, notes, or coded messages.
M) Debriefing. This is the extensive process where you decide to drop out and become an information and admit to having been a street or prison gang member.
As I said earlier, the CDC has to have at least three items on that list to VALIDATE you as a gang member. And once they have, there's form 812 to fill out. There are three flavors of 812 -- a, b and c. An inmate may qualify for one, or all three of those.
You can see how valuable a simple greeting card can be. On one card, they can add one validation criteria to dozens of inmates. The irony of have 13 items in the validation process I'm sure isn't lost on the Mexican Mafia. M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet and you see an awful lot of 13 tattoos on Eme carnals, affiliates and average street gangsters. There's an awful lot of 13 grafitti as well.