We recently interviewed Chuck Schoville, President of the Arizona Gang Investigators Association and 26 year veteran police officer of the City of Tempe where he supervised the Tempe Police Department Gang Unit for about 15 years. He described typical requirements for becoming a gang investigator and advice for being successful in this field.
1. What is typically required for police officers who want to become a gang investigator?
Most Police Departments require officers to have at least three years experience as a patrol officer before seeking to be assigned to a specialized unit, including a gang unit which specializes in gang investigations. The early years of a police officer’s career is a very important time that police officers use to develop the necessary skills to succeed over a lengthy career.
2. What types of characteristics or skills do you think gang investigators should possess in order to be successful in this line of work?
Gang investigators need to be able to use sound reasoning and analytical skills to investigate gang related crimes. Investigating a gang crime has additional hurdles that a non gang related crime may not have, to include witnesses and victims that are reluctant to cooperate due to fear of the gangs.
3. What is the typical career path for a gang investigator from entry level to getting promoted to positions of greater responsibility?
Typically gang investigators, also called a gang detective, are required to spend the first few years of a career as a patrol officer. Some officers may then decide to attempt to transfer to a specialized gang unit. Other officers may transfer from a patrol position into another specialized unit, such as the traffic investigators, homicide investigator or into any other specialty area that they may have interest in.
4. Can you describe the typical role of a gang unit at a police agency?
Although each agency is different, the general rule is that a gang unit will focus their efforts on gang intervention and prevention, gang suppression and the collection of criminal intelligence, and finally, in the completion of criminal investigations involving crimes that were committed by gang members or in crimes where the victims were gang members.
5. What are some of the activities that gang investigators spend a significant amount of their work day on?
Most gang investigators will spend the majority of their work day on several different activities. However the most important activity will be in getting into the neighborhoods that are often the areas where gang members congregate and commit gang crimes. The goal of all good gang investigators is to personally know who the gang members are, which gangs are rivals and allies and to basically have a very good understanding of the issues involving the gang members and gangs, with the ultimate goal of being able to prevent a gang crime from occurring. In addition to spending time in a neighborhood plagued by gangs and gang crimes, gang investigators are required to spend time each day on administrative duties, including the maintenance of intelligence files, report writing and conducting follow up and criminal investigations.
6. What advice would you give to individuals who are interested in a career in gang investigations?
Many police officers make excellent investigators, however there are additional assets that are required to be a excellent gang investigator. A good gang investigator will understand and be empathetic on why people join gangs. Good gang investigators will be able to understand what motivates a gang member to join a gang and understand why they may commit a gang crime.
A person that is interested in becoming a gang investigator should contact several gang investigators and ask many questions. Gang investigators are often required to work long hours, weekends, holidays. Gang investigators must also be able to multi-task on a regular basis.
7. What are the major challenges that police face in reducing gang activity?
As the economy continues to struggle, many if not all police agencies also struggle to maintain the proper and needed staffing levels. As the economy worsened, many gang units that specialized in gang investigations were reduced in size. A reduction in gang investigators will have a serious negative effect on the quality of life in communities that at one time had the benefit of having gang investigators assigned to their neighborhoods.
And as the economy continues to suffer, many people are joining gangs that may have not joined in better economic times.