Los Angeles’s most dangerous criminal gangs have different names — the Banditos, the Executioners, the Wayside Whities — they occupy different turfs, they sport distinctive identifying tattoos, and they carry on intense rivalries with one another. But their members all have one thing in common.
They are all Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies.
A new report on deputy gangs from the RAND Corporation is, in spite of its antiseptic language, one of those rare things that simply must be read to be believed. It is a document that should be studied and preserved.
Like the mafias of old and the Folk Nation/People Nation mobs that evolved during Chicago’s golden age of street gangs, the gangs of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) serve a variety of social and criminal purposes. They have their roots in the bonding experience of men (and women, but — who are we trying to kid? — mostly men) who have been through difficult and dangerous experiences together. They are partly social in character, providing a sense of belonging and status to their members. They act as mutual-aid societies, exchanging favors and help ranging from the commonplace to the criminal.
As with the old street gangs, there are two very good ways to get an invitation to join: commit a crime or shoot somebody.
These gangs — the RAND report, honoring the sociological pretense, calls them only “subgroups” — are involved in a variety of crimes, from covering up police misconduct to extortion, including extortion targeting lower-ranking deputies, who are forced into “paying rent to work at a station” in the pursuit of a desirable posting. LASD staff told researchers that violence against prisoners in custody is used as a test to “get your ink,” which is to say, as part of a gang-initiation ritual.
These subgroups are associated with varying forms of misconduct in the community and within the department, including the violation of constitutional rights, use of excessive force, a glorification of shootings committed by deputies, and fostering a code of silence, as well as bullying, harassment, intimidation of and retaliation toward other department members, resistance to supervision, and establishment of subgroup symbols and tattoos.