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February 20, 2014

DOC Sgt. from Mayo CI explains gang culture

Mayo — Security Threat Group (STG) Liaison/Investigator Sergeant Gabe Simpson from the Department of Corrections (DOC) recently gave a presentation to the Rotary Club of Mayo to educate them on the subject of gangs, how to spot them and how they operate.

Mayo Correctional Institution Warden Scott Crews said Simpson is their gang coordinator.

“Gangs are a huge part of our state, as well as the country,” said Crews. “It’s closer to home than what you think.”

Simpson was born in Indiana, grew up in Virginia and graduated in 1999 from Chowan University in Murfreesboro, N.C. with a bachelor’s degree before moving to Lafayette County in 2000. He and his wife Heather have four children ages two to 14. He has been with Mayo CI for nine years and is a member of their crisis negotiation team, as well as an instructor at the DOC’s negotiation academy. He also teaches firearms defensive tactics and is a munitions instructor.

Simpson said when he was in high school the principal asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up.

“I gave him a three-part answer,” Simpson said. “My first choice was I was going to be, obviously, a rock-n-roll guitar player. I was going to take the world by storm.”

His second choice was to be a professional tennis player.

“My fallback was I wanted to be a detective,” said Simpson. “That was my serious answer.”

His favorite TV show at the time was NYPD Blue, which inspired him to pursue some sort of a career in investigative work. He and his mother, he said, used to watch Alfred Hitchcock movies on TV when he was a kid and he always enjoyed the challenge of figuring out “Whodunnit”.

“A lot of what I do is try to figure out who is doing what, and trying to stay one step ahead of these guys because they’re always active, they’re always thinking about how to make money and how to break the rules,” Simpson said. “My task is to hopefully figure out what they’re up to, so we can prevent some sort of serious incident from occurring.”

Simpson explained that they use the term security threat group rather than gang because it doesn’t stroke their egos as much or give them the notoriety they are seeking.

“It is literally a clear description of what they are,” he said. “A group of two or more people with a common mission, a common goal, and that goal is a direct threat to security.”

The Security Threat Intelligence Unit was developed by the DOC and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) in 1992.

“We are nationally recognized as one of the leaders in the country for intelligence gathering and the way we deal with our gang members and the programs that we have for them,” Simpson said.

Chapter 874 of the Florida Legislature, which is the Criminal Street Gang and Security Threat Group Act, clearly defines what a gang and a gang member are and how they are identified, Simpson explained.

“If I walk into the prison and I see a young man and he is clearly identifying himself as a gang member, I can’t simply just write on a piece of paper ‘gang member’ and then boom, he’s documented,” Simpson said. “We have a process that we have to go through and investigate this guy, talk to him, interview him, see where he’s coming from, what are his goals, what’s his purpose for perpetrating himself as this gang member? We’ll take pictures of his tattoos and a lot of times they’ll be intentionally deceitful. It’s our job to find out what’s actually going on with this guy.”

Once all the information is gathered, it is sent to Tallahassee to determine whether or not the guy is a gang member, Simpson explained, and if he is, that record will stay with him the rest of his life.

Simpson said there are six basic major types of gangs; street, white supremacist, biker, subversive, colts and prison gangs.

“Most of our popular gangs in America today can be traced back to Chicago,” said Simpson.  “These young, poor immigrants in the streets of Chicago following the Great Depression, they didn’t have any protection,” he explained.

So, what they did was form a group in their respective neighborhoods, in order to look out for one another.

“What starts off as a generally noble idea, turns into something a little bit less,” he said.

For example, a guy might see something another guy has in a different neighborhood and decides he wants it for himself. Then those neighborhoods start sprouting up different subcultures, oftentimes on the same block.

“Within those groups there became alliances between the gangs,” he went on. “Those alliances have passed down and are still active today. That would be the People Nation and the Folk Nation.”

Some common People Nation gangs are the Bloods, Pirus, Latin Kings and Crip Killers and common Folk Nation gangs are Black Gangsta Disciples, Blood Killers and Crips.

Ice Cube, an American hip hop artist, record producer, actor, screenwriter, film producer and director, Simpson said, was a member of the Crips. The popular rapper Snoop Dog, he added, is doing wonderful, cultural neighborhood things. He has a football organization and donates money to charity, and he was and still is a member of the Crips gang. He still pays tribute to the founders of his gang when he raps onstage, Simpson said.

Ice-T, who plays a detective on Law and Order is still a member of a gang, Simpson continued.

“I’m not judging them,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ve left that lifestyle 100 percent behind, but what they are is someone that our children see on a daily basis. They have that history with them, and until they are actively preaching against it, it’s something that our kids are exposed to. It’s like a media environment that they are attracted to.”

Simpson said when he asks gang members why they joined a gang, the number one answer he gets is “money, power and respect.” Generally, he added, most are proud to be a member of a gang.

Lafayette County, Simpson said, doesn’t have a big gang problem, however, nearby Columbia County has 21 documented gangs.

Simpson said he has noticed there are a few youth in Lafayette County who are posting photos on Facebook where they are imitating gang members and using gang signs, so they are being influenced. To discourage youth from joining a gang, Simpson said they need to be encouraged to join a recreation league or a church youth group.

Unusual behavior like a sudden shift in clothing or wearing a hat a certain way everyday might be indicators that a youth is being pulled into a gang environment, he explained. His advice is for  people like teachers and coaches, if they notice this type of behavior, they should pull the child aside and talk with him or her and try to find out what is going on.

“If we can grab these kids before they head toward a criminal lifestyle, simply because they’re imitating what they see on TV, then hopefully we can do that,” said Simpson.

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