We recently interviewed Tim Hock, President of the Oklahoma Gang Investigators Association, about what it is like to work in a gang investigation unit, the challenges of reducing gang activity, and the skills needed to be a successful gang investigator.
How did you get started in gang investigation?
I got my start in early 1994 when the Oklahoma City Police Department decided they were tired of being reactive to the gang problem and became proactive by creating an aggressive gang unit to seek out these individuals and arrest them or at least ID them for future needs, thusly, creating a gang database that is still used today.
Can you describe your career path to your current position?
My career path was nothing special. I went to college on a football scholarship and became interested in law enforcement when I was home for the summers working at Sears catching shoplifters. I was hired I worked as a patrolman on graveyard shift for approximately 4.5 years and then went to a yearlong rotation in our narcotics unit buying drugs and executing search warrants. After a year of that I was asked to be a member of a new unit they were creating called IMPACT teams. There was a team placed in every division and they were tasked with “street level crime” enforcement. Wherever there was issues in that division, we would handle it. If there was a rash of auto burglaries we would set up until we caught them. If there was a crack house we would make a buy and serve a warrant and close it down etc…After two years of this I was contacted by the command and asked if I wanted to be on another new unit, the gang unit. I did ten years on the gang unit’s street team chasing down gangsters and have now spent the last almost 8 years in the Gang Intelligence Unit, which is the Detective side of the team, doing follow up investigations on violent street crimes.
What characteristics or skills do you think are important for a successful gang investigator career?
A successful gang investigator has to be able to know the streets and think on his feet. If you get out here and try to work in and around these gangsters, and don’t know their language, who they align with, bang against etc…they will not talk to you or show you any respect. Treat them as you are treated. If you approach and they are “cordial” for lack of a better word…then you return this…all the while being on guard and using all officer safety training that you have. If you approach and they start “MFIng” you then you act accordingly and put a stop to it…because if you don’t they will continue to push that envelope with you or the next officer until someone gets hurt of killed. You cannot show any fear around these guys or they will eat you up.
What are the greatest challenges facing gang investigation units in reducing gang activity?
The greatest challenges we face in solving gang crimes is the lack of victim and witness cooperation. This is due to most of our VI’s and WI’s being gang members themselves. Other problems include command structure that do not believe or won’t admit that they have a gang problem and so they ignore it and it just gets worse. And then of course, when they do recognize it and decide to do something about it, there is always the manpower issue.
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your job?
This is a simple answer…the most rewarding aspect is when you make the arrest that removes the worst of the worst from our streets…and these gang members are the absolute worst scourge within the borders of our country.
How often do new positions become available in the gang unit at your police department?
Turnover is very low within the unit. Hard charging officers strive to be in this unit and when they finally get here they don’t want to do anything else.