5 requirements for a successful gang task force

Whenever agents, detectives, and officers are brought together from local, state and federal agencies, there are inherent difficulties that need to be addressed from the beginning


Task forces are a frequently used tool by law enforcement to deal with a multitude of issues. Short term task forces are often formed for fugitive apprehensions, high-profile criminals or other “hot button” issues. Long term, task forces deal with narcotics or human trafficking. Gang task forces have been around for a long time, albeit in various forms. They have been used to target mafia members and transnational gangs as well as local street gangs.

By their very nature, all task forces face difficult challenges. Whenever agents, detectives, and officers are brought together from local, state and federal agencies, there are inherent difficulties that need to be addressed from the beginning.

Here are some requirements for a successful gang task force.

1. Have centralized command
It doesn’t matter who is in charge, but a gang task force needs to be built around one single agency. It can be run by a federal agency, such as those managed by the FBI or the US Marshals. States with a robust state police often manage their own. Locally, they can be run by larger police departments or sheriff’s offices. What doesn’t work is “rule by committee.” Things get too political as each agency vies for power. Resources — money, manpower, and equipment — need to be funneled through a single source and distributed as needed.

Obviously, every participating department will still have a major say in how the task force is used. It’s still partnership but, even if only for administrative and logistical reasons, it needs to be under one banner.

2. Be intelligence-driven
Task force operations need to be driven by current, accurate intelligence. It’s best to have an internal intelligence unit within the task force to accomplish this. The intel unit should consist of detectives who gather intelligence and intel analysts who compile and package it into products that are useful to field units. These products include link diagrams, maps, reports and so on. Special attention needs to be given to researching social media as well. There needs to be a well-defined distinction between the intel gathering/processing folks and the units or teams that are sent out to act on them.

3. Staff with experts
Not everyone is a gang cop. It takes experience, research, and dedication to become one. Task force officers should have training and experience in identifying gang symbols. They should know the local gangs, where they hang out, and what they do. Preferably, they should be court certified gang experts or at least have conducted previous gang investigations or authored gang predicate reports.

If it isn’t possible to have every task force member be a gang detective, then every effort should be made to put gang detectives in charge of teams with non-gang officers working for them. This may result in some hurt feelings if, for example, a sergeant from another agency is sent to work at a task force and he is made to work for a gang detective. But sending a group of non-gang experts led by non-gang experts to do gang suppression is like using a sledge hammer to crack an egg.

4. Deploy where you’re most needed
Task forces are rife with politics. Every participating agency wants to have a say in where the task force should be deployed. It’s important that the host agency, in agreement with the other participating agencies, ensure that the enforcement teams are sent where they are most needed. Again, this will be driven by intelligence that supports the reasons for why the team should get assigned to a particular part of a city, county or state.

5. Be qualitative, not quantitative
This can be tough. Chiefs, sheriffs, and S.A.C.s like to see results. Numbers of guns seized, how many gangsters arrested, pounds of drugs taken. These are all important, but they don’t tell the whole story. Successful gang suppression is hard to measure. The best way to do it is to use “before and after” intelligence to show decreases in gang activity in certain areas.  Fewer gang members hanging out, less graffiti, decreases in crime and feedback from normal folks living in gang areas are all good indicators you’re making a difference. Gang suppression is a marathon, not a sprint, and results are observed over months and years, not days and weeks.

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