Police and youth workers learn the ways of gangs
Training helps adults decode the signs and symbols of groups such as the Young Bloods and White CripsSt. Petersburg Times (CLEARWATER) -- The gang members moved their hands in circles and swiped their arms across their chests.Then, they attacked.Kenyon Craig Correy, a school resource officer at St. Petersburg High School, was injured slightly in the May 1993 beating. He hadn't recognized the hand and arm motions that signaled the attack, because gang symbols were unfamiliar in Pinellas County at the time. On Tuesday, more than 100 youth workers and law enforcement officers made sure they wouldn't be caught unaware of those symbols by watching a video of the incident at a gang training session at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office at 14255 49th St. N. The video is now used to teach gang identification across the country."Anyone who thinks we don't have gangs in our communities is fooling themselves. There is nowhere in the state we don't have gangs," said Sgt. Tracey Schofield of the Pinellas Park Police Department.Schofield has nine years of experience investigating street gangs and has taught gang identification nationwide.He said there are about seven street gangs, with about 20 members each, roaming the county's streets: True Asian Pride, Young Bloods, Asian Crips, Pinellas White Crips, Southern Bloods, Viet Pride and United Bloods. Also, occasional reports are made on the Latin Kings.Schofield said they are identified by their hand signs, graffiti and colors. These are copied from the "Big Four": the California-based Crips and Bloods, and the Chicago-based Folk Nation and People Nation.Crips and Folk gangs wear blue and slant hats or bandannas to the right. Crips use an eight-pointed ball and letter C as symbols. Their numbers are eight and six. Folks use the Star of David and a pitchfork. Their numbers are six and three.Bloods and People use red, slant clothing to the left and display the numbers five and seven. Bloods symbols are a five-pointed star and a five-pointed crown. People use the color red but may also use other colors. Their slant is to the left and their symbols are a pyramid and seven-pointed crown.Local schools have banned gang clothing, but the members have found other means of showing their affiliations, Schofield said. Instead of a bandanna, colored beads might be worn. A cocked baseball cap might be replaced by a belt pulled to the right or left."It's impossible to keep the colors out of schools. They'll find a way to wear them, and you need to know what you're looking at," said Schofield.Other hate signs include the swastika, Celtic cross, WAR swastika, the night rider, the number 88 and the phrase ൖ words."Each gang also has what gang members call their bible. This can be anything from a spiral notebook to a printout of 100 pages. The books contain information such as the gang's symbols, list of members, dates members were initiated, coded alphabets and the group's hierarchy."This shows me why gangs are formed," Schofield said. "The bigger issue is these kids are not given a position in their families. If they're beaten in by a gang, then they have a place." All children need a sense of belonging, being cared for and being respected, he said, urging parents to participate in their children's lives. Children as young as 9 are recruited into gangs, with the average age of members 12 to 17 years old."Parents tend to wait until their child is already involved, usually beginning in the middle school years when the pressures of peers begin to be felt," Schofield said. "You have to think ahead. Right now, they may be beautiful babies. But what will happen when they're 12?"Because candidates ask to be beaten in gang initiation rituals, parents cannot file charges against those involved. Schofield said the initiation often involves the same number of members as the gang's chosen number. For example, if the gang uses a six-pointed crown as a symbol, six pennies will be thrown on the ground and the initiate must pick them up while six members beat him."It's not about respect. Gangs keep control by using fear and intimidation. Once a kid is in the gang, the whole family is in it," said Schofield.He advises parents: "You have an open search warrant on your kids until they turn 18. You should execute it at least every 45 days."