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Monday, April 9, 2012

Cop school: Gangs still pose a threat in FXCO

The following report about gangs in Fairfax County is based on a presentation by a police detective in the gang unit at the April 5 session of the Citizens Police Academy. The detective often works undercover so he prefers to remain anonymous.

Gang graffiti in Fairfax County
“The gang problem is not as bad as it used to be but they’re still here,” the detective says. He estimates there are more than 100 gangs in Fairfax County, although some are small, temporary groups, with as many as 2,000 to 3,000 “gang-associated persons.”

“We still have MS 13. We still have Bloods sets. We still have Crips sets,” he says.

MS13 (Mara Salvatrucha) was started in Los Angeles by Salvadoran immigrants in the 1980s to protect themselves from the Mexican Mafia and other gangs. Many of their early members were fans of heavy-metal bands, and that’s where their use of the devil hand sign comes from.

MS 13 is active in the Annandale are, although it’s more prevalent in the Culmore area of Bailey’s Crossroads. “I’ve never met an MS13 guy that didn’t have a job,” the detective says. “They might work hard all week in construction or something then party hard and gang bang all weekend.”

The Korean Dragon Crew and Crips sets are also still thought to be active in Annandale. Seven Corners gangs include the Seven Cs and the Crossroads Crew.

Other gangs in the D.C. area include the 18th Street Gang, which is the biggest rival of MS 13. The Rollin’ 60s, from the 60th Street area of Los Angeles has turned up in Alexandria. Also in the area are the Tiny Rascal Gangsters, a predominantly Cambodian when they started, but are now much more diverse.

In 2009, there were 680 gang-related cases in Fairfax County. In 2003, there were 78 gang-related cases at Fairfax County schools. There haven’t been any gang-related homicides in the county so far this year. [Last month, five members of the Underground Gangster Crips were arrested for running a prostitution ring with teenage girls and threatening them with violence if they tried to leave.]
Monitoring gang activity has gotten more complicated, as gangs are not as blatant as they used to be. You’re less likely to see them with their bandanas or “colors” hanging out in parks or certain public places. They’re more likely to use electronic media nowadays; sometimes MS units even meet in hotels.

In Fairfax County, gangs have been associated with murders, assaults, rapes, robbery, and graffiti. The police study gang-related graffiti to determine where gangs are claiming their territory, which gangs are aligning or having a conflict with each other, or who is going to be killed. 

Graffiti with a five-point crown most likely refers to the Latin Kings, a predominantly Puerto Rican gang founded in Chicago. A six-pointed star signifies the People Nation, an “umbrella group” for gangs, while a pitchfork represents Folk Nation, another umbrella group.

Gang members use hand signals to communicate with one aother in clubs or other public places, with certain signals leading to fights, stabbings, or shootings.

The police also look at tattoos to identify gang members, even during routine traffic stops. Three dots, often on found on people’s hands, means, “mi vida loca,” or my crazy life. Teardrops near the eye could mean they killed someone or are mourning someone. Members of Vietnamese gangs often have dragon tattoos.

In 1998, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized a permanent 12-person gang unit in the police department after a fatal shooting in the Marshall High School parking lot that involved the Tiny Rascal Gangsters.

The gang unit participates in a regional anti-gang task force with law enforcement officials in Loudoun, Prince William and other nearby jurisdictions and also works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco, and other federal agencies.

A law passed in 2005 has been extremely helpful for the Fairfax County police. If a person commits a crime in the name of a street gang recognized by the courts, they can also be found guilty of gang participation, as well as assault, destruction of property, or whatever crime they committed. And that means a longer sentence for those convicted.

People in gangs have a certain mentality. “They think differently than we do,” the detective says. “Most of their fights are about territory, and most violence is gang on gang.” A few years ago, however, there was a Crips set here that required each recruit to rob people and bring back $100.

He listed a few reasons why kids join gangs: for status, money, drugs, girls or guys, and the adrenaline rush. In many cases, kids who get involved in gangs have unhappy home lives or their parents are busy working two jobs, and the gang becomes like a family for them.

For many, being in a gang is all about revenge and respect. Their belief system is “live today, die tomorrow,” he says. “They don’t care what happens to them.” Some members of Asian gangs believe you can’t control fate, so there’s no point in trying to stop a killing.

Combatting gangs has to start at home. Parents need to look in closets, know how to recognize gang-related graffiti, and monitor their kids’ actions online. Schools can help by banning gang clothing and paraphernalia. They should remove graffiti on school property immediately—after taking photos of it—and encourage students to get involved in sports and after-school activities.

Most gang members are ages 16 to 24. When they get older, gang members sometimes escalate into human trafficking or extortion, or sometimes they “fade away,” becoming less active in the gang as they move to another area or get married. For those who want to re-enter regular society, Fairfax County has a tattoo removal program.

It’s not against the law to be in a gang as long as you don’t commit a crime.


  1. What does the graffiti in the page one photo mean? Does it say Y.V.C.? We will keep an eye out for crowns and stars. Thanks.

  2. Yorkville Crips

  3. Yorkville crew!!