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Gang Investigator Career Guide

Police gang units must know and stay current on the affiliations and activities of gangs that have a presence within their jurisdictions. Gangs are insular communities and are protective of information and members. Even community members who are not affiliated with criminal activities will often be intimidated by gang members into maintaining silence about gang activities. As a result, it takes a great deal of fieldwork to develop contacts within gangs and the community and develop the trust required to control crime associated with gangs.

Gang Investigator Job Description, Duties and Common Tasks

Gang investigators are typically law enforcement professionals who have been specially trained to address the problems of gang activity within their jurisdictions. Gang detectives:

  • Build relationships with gang and community members
  • Develop knowledge on gangs and gang members
  • Investigate criminal cases involving gang members
  • Testify in court
  • Visit schools and community events to educate students about the negative impacts and consequences of joining gangs

How to Become a Gang Investigator: Requirements and Qualifications

Prospective gang detectives must:

  • Become a police officer or have experience in corrections, parole, or probation prior to moving into a gang unit
  • Successfully complete the application process, including submitting to an extensive background investigation
  • Attend and pass the police officer training academy, which generally lasts a minimum of a few months
  • Possess a bachelor’s degree in criminology, sociology, or law enforcement

Prospective gang detectives should also be aware that few police departments will hire gang control officers who have visible tattoos, even if those tattoos would be covered by the standard uniform. Individuals with visible tattoos or tattoos on any area of the body that suggest any kind of organizational affiliation, whether gang or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, will likely need to have such a marking professionally removed before an offer of employment will be made.

Gang Investigator Job Training

Gang investigators must learn the cultural and symbolic uses of language by the gang with which they will be working and must develop an intimate knowledge of gang disputes and territories. Gangs often communicate using pictures, acronyms, and even sign language, all of which a gang investigator must learn to effectively communicate with (and investigate) gang members. Investigators create dossiers by interviewing and developing relationships with gang members. On-the-job training and ongoing training are essential. Departments involved in countering gang activity often encourage officers to attend training seminars and conferences held by anti-gang specialist organizations such as the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations or its individual branches.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Gang investigators must be able to work well under pressure, be discreet, and effectively communicate with a diverse population. Successful candidates typically have prior law enforcement experience or have experience in corrections, parole, or probation.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Gang detective
  • Gang investigator

Career Opportunities and Employers

Police officers generally earn promotions to the position of gang investigator. Seasoned gang detectives may advance to supervisory or administrative positions, following the same paramilitary rank advancements as regular police officers.

Gang Investigator Salary and Outlook

While the reality is unfortunate, police agencies will always need skilled investigators to deal with criminal activity related to gangs. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 4% from 2014 to 2024 for police and detectives.1 Salaries vary depending on position but pay is typically commensurate with education, rank, and time-in-service. According to the BLS, detectives and criminal investigators earned an average annual salary of $79,620 as of 2015.2

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

How big of a problem are gangs in the United States?

The FBI reports that there are more than 33,000 street gangs with an estimated 1.4 million members across the country.3 Criminal gangs are found in every area of the country, though the Great Lakes and West regions have the highest numbers of gang members.3

How many years of law enforcement experience is necessary before being promoted to gang detective?

Prospective investigators should be prepared to work as a police officer, usually a patrol officer, for between two and five years before becoming eligible to advance to the gang investigations unit.

How dangerous is it to work as a gang investigator?

As with any position in law enforcement, gang detectives face numerous dangers, from having their identity discovered by the gang they’re infiltrating to attacks from rival gang members. As a result, gang investigators must be on guard and aware of their surroundings at all times.

Additional Resources

Gang Investigator Interviews


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References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police and Detectives: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Protective-Service/Police-and-detectives.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages May 2015, Detectives and Criminal Investigators: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm
3. Federal Bureau of Investigation 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment: https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/2011-national-gang-threat-assessment