By Paul Grondahl
The Times Union
ALBANY COUNTY, N.Y. — Sgt. Christopher Frambach has earned the equivalent of a doctorate in gangology.
As supervisor of the gang intelligence unit at Albany County jail, he maintains detailed files on more than 800 gang members he's tracked at the correctional facility over the past few years.
Among the more disturbing recent trends is an apparent rise in white supremacist gangs in the Capital Region, at least according to what he gleaned from a 23-year-old prisoner from Cohoes who was held at the jail recently.
The man's tattoos displayed Nazi imagery: S.S. on his shaved head, swastikas on his torso, a large Wehrmacht eagle splayed across the back of his shoulders.
His neck had a 518 tattoo. That's code, Frambach explained, for Adolph Hitler. (Pass over the 5, with 1 standing for A, the first letter in the alphabet, and 8 representing H.) The gang likes to refer to itself as "the Adolph Hitler 51-Hate" set.
"He was a scary guy," Frambach said. "Nobody messed with him. He walked through the jail like he owned it."
Other racist gang graffiti Frambach discovered read: "True White Boys. Respect It."
Frambach has also noticed an increase in activity among the Five Percenters, a gang formed in 1963 in Harlem after it split from the Nation of Islam. The Five Percenters had kept a low profile in recent decades. Frambach recently confiscated jewelry with the gang's insignia.
"The Five Percenters were the main gang here 25 years ago, and it's troubling to see them coming back," he said.
Learning as much as he can about gang members helps prevent violence at the county jail, the state's third-largest, with a capacity of 1,035 prisoners.
"We're in defensive mode. Since most of our fights are gang on gang, we try to keep a balance that keeps good inmates away from bad inmates and doesn't let too many from one gang on the same tier," Frambach said.
In recent weeks, jail officials have experimented by putting problem prisoners, often gang members who fight or cause repeated problems, in "zebra suits" — jumpsuits with thick black and white stripes that stand out from the standard-issue yellow ones.
Among contraband was a confiscated homemade "Monopoly" style "gangbanger" board game with the names of Albany's inner-city streets and special squares for buying drugs, guns, cars and the services of prostitutes.
"These guys are very bright and creative. It's just a shame they don't use their talent for good purposes," he said.
Frambach plays a cat-and-mouse game with gang members, who frequently change their names, codes, hand signals and colors to throw off law enforcement. They also taunt the police. For instance, they use 187 in their graffiti, the police scanner code for a murder call.
Working with other anti-gang officers, Framback has been tracking two of the most deadly gangs, MS-13, the Mara Salvatrucha, formed in El Salvador, and the Border Brothers, illegal Mexican immigrants known in Spanish as Hermanos de la Frontera.
Said Frambach: "MS-13 and Border Brothers have been showing up on Long Island. It's just a matter of time before they move up here. I'm bracing for them."
Copyright 2007 The Times Union
N.Y. sergeant an expert in 'gangology'