Ron Hampton, President of the East Coast Gang Investigator's Association, and experienced detective in gang investigation took some time out of his busy schedule to share some great insights into a career as a gang investigator.
How did you get started in gang investigation and what was your career path to your current position?
I began my career as a New Jersey State Trooper in 1994 as a general duty road Trooper assigned to what we call a 'Station' or 'Barracks.' I was basically a uniformed Trooper whose responsibilities included what would be consistent with any regular police officer assigned to a patrol function. The New Jersey State Police is also comprised of a number of specialized sections, bureaus and units which handle responsibilities related to criminal investigations, emergency management functions, SWAT, etc. In 2002, I submitted a request to transfer to our Street Gang Unit (as it was known at that time) as a detective. I was accepted into the assignment and began my 'new' career. My initial training consisted of general gang awareness and recognition courses, advanced gang courses, etc. I also was detailed to attend and observe instructors in my unit who taught general gang recognition courses to the general public in order to prepare myself for the same task. My unit also conducted operational criminal investigations focused solely on criminal street gangs and their members as well as the collection of intelligence on gangs.
How much experience do police officers generally need in order to work in gang investigations?
As you can tell from my own path, I had no prior experience in gangs before being selected to the unit. I did serve previous to my gang unit assignment in a narcotics unit where I worked under cover and also conducted surface investigations of individuals/organizations involved in the sale of illicit drugs. This experience was invaluable when it came to conducting operational 'gang' investigations. Learning about street gangs and their culture, lingo, etc. was the challenging part. I have seen members of our organization transfer in from our uniformed ranks and do very well with no prior experience. What separates the good from the bad in terms of gang investigations is dedication to learning and understanding the gangs and their culture. Any half decent detective can conduct an investigation on anything/anyone. But to truly understand gangs, you have to look past the easy arrest for possession of drugs or weapons and look at their culture, leadership and structure.
Is there additional training that gang investigators typically receive when they start working in a gang unit?
With the explosion of gangs here on the East Coast of the U.S. in the late 1990's, there has also been an explosion of training opportunities focused on criminal street gangs. As for “typical” training, I don't know if that is the best word to use. I would say that there are opportunities to attend training on a number of more advanced topics related to gangs, such as Officer Safety courses, Advanced Gang Investigations courses, Gang Specific Identification courses (i.e. – Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Bloods, Crips..), Interviewing Gang Members and others.
How is a typical gang investigation unit structured in terms of personnel?
I participated in a working group several years ago to develop a survey to answer this very question. Their is no typical unit structure. When I started in our gang unit we had one unit which consisted of three (3) geographical regions. Each region was staffed by a Sergeant and a number of detectives. We totaled about 20 people to cover the entire State. We then expanded into three (3) separate geographical units comprised of approximately 20 detectives and supervisors for each unit. In my experience, I have worked with gang units that consist of 1-2 intelligence collectors (non-operational); 5-10 people comprised of both operational detectives and analysts; 5 people who call themselves a gang unit but are merely a street crimes squad; and others.
What activities do gang investigators typically spend the most time on?
Generally speaking, most units will spend the most time on the collection of intelligence on gangs and their members such as identification, trends, etc., and/or conducting operational investigations targeting gangs and/or their members. I would say both are equally important and probably receive equal time.
Can you tell us about the East Coast Gang Investigators Association and how membership can benefit individuals?
The East Coast Gang Investigator's Association (ECGIA) was established in 1998 after an enormous outcry for information relating to the East Coast gang situation. The ECGIA. formed from a small group of dedicated Law Enforcement Officials that shared gang related information with one another on a regular basis. As the street gangs and their members grew, so did the networking between these Law Enforcement Officials and others. The need for assistance, training and networking, also grew as these gangs migrated into new communities. Currently the ECGIA has approximately over 2,200 members from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, throughout the Midwest, West Coast, and Canada, and we are continually growing. The ECGIA is a non-profit organization that continually strives to provide law enforcement officials with the training and resources they need to stay at the forefront of the ever changing street gang trends and identifiers. The ECGIA and its members go beyond to serve and protect, by training and educating the parents, teachers, professionals, and youth of our communities, in street gang awareness and identification. Membership in the association is restricted to criminal justice professionals which consists of correctional personnel, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, analysts and investigators. The association offers a members only intelligence sharing forum to share information related to gangs, gang members, gang trends, etc. The association also conducts regional and nationwide training on a variety of topics related to gangs as well as represents the interests of our members at various levels of government and on the political front.