Through the years I’ve attended many a conference. Some were required training while others I requested due to their specialized subject matter. It wasn’t until my June 28th attendance at the weeklong Texas Gang Investigator’s Association (TGIA) Conference in San Antonio, Texas, that I came to fully appreciate the extent of intense effort it takes behind the scenes to produce an outstanding conference.
This year I was honored with another invitation to return and sign my novels for the 800+ law enforcement related attendees. Yes, it was great to talk “books” with everyone, but it afforded me the opportunity to again visit with many who have become close friends. And each year, new friendships are made. That’s one of the many wonders in law enforcement—once you’ve been a cop, you’re never out of the family.
I watched the TGIA board members and volunteers (I’d try to name all but am afraid I would miss one) constantly in motion. They registered hundreds of people, checked class schedules, ensured supplies were available, ferried people to and from the airport, verified evening events were all in order, and a thousand other matters. Behind the scenes was hectic, yet for the attendees, the conference was seamless. The speakers ranged from federal to local enforcement departments and provided useful, valuable information, not the type of “smoke-up-the-posterior” talks that many self-proclaimed speaking experts feed audiences to impress themselves.
One of the many excellent actions I observed was the security provided for each training session. Everyone’s badge was read and verified with a scanner before entering a class. This afforded the opportunity of a truthful exchange of critical data the officers could use upon their return home.
If TGIA members haven’t thanked their board for the great conference, then they should. Members definitely received their money’s worth in training, and the ability to network with fellow professionals was priceless.
But this wasn’t a light-hearted conference. It dealt with violent crimes and pathetic criminals who have little concern for humanity… and it underscored the dangers law enforcement daily confront such as the July 7th tragedy in Dallas where police officers were senselessly killed and wounded while protecting angry demonstrators who protested against law enforcement.
While our news media daily focuses on ratings and biased political reports, the underworld of organized gangs flows like a raging river—a river with little regard for whom it drowns. Organized gang crimes touch everyone everywhere, and yet it is ignored because most people still think of ‘gangs’ as those wannabe-bad-boys who spray graffiti on fences and buildings. Well, ‘gangs’ graduated long ago into the big-boy realm of crime and the public has failed to keep pace with the knowledge.
For security reasons I don’t use the full or real names of gang investigators I interview, and I certainly will not write about classified ops currently in progress by law enforcement. But, at the recent TGIA conference, I was fortunate to talk with several remarkable people in this investigative field. For all of their experience and involvements, you’d suppose they probably look like Rambo, Navy SEALS, or Marine Force Recon ready for battle… but they don’t. Instead, they are calm, quiet individuals you might walk past everyday in a store, never giving thought to their involvement in the gang world. Yet they are fully aware of you, your actions and analyzing you against their mental database of suspects.
“Johnny” is one of those men. When “Paul” recommended that I talk to his mentor about gangs, from all he had said, I expected to meet an almost larger than life man. He was known to be a virtual walking encyclopedia on gangs, and he had moved through the ranks of patrol, detective, special ops, multiple state and federal task forces, to his present position with a district attorney. So when this short, average built, soft-spoken, courteous man walked up and introduced himself, I was stunned. Not for long, though.
Once we sat and began to talk, my respect for Johnny grew… and kept growing throughout our entire discussion. He represented the thousands of men and women that work tirelessly behind the scenes, without public notice or want of gratitude, in a filthy world that most citizens only see by watching action movies in a theater. Gang names, histories, rivalries, underworld criminal activities and statewide networks rolled out of him faster than I could take notes.
The Mexican Mafia “Mexikanemi” was always at the top of the list. A ruthless organized gang with its own rules and constitution, Mexikanemi’s creation follows just about everything Aztec. The gang rules are simple: a member may not be an informant, or rat; a member must not be a coward; the ‘Eme’ (M=13th letter of alphabet which represents the gang) comes first, even before your own family; membership is for life, and it’s mandatory to assault/kill all dropouts. There’s more, but I believe you understand the essence of the rules.
When it’s beneficial gangs form alliances for their activities: drugs, extortion, human trafficking, murder, etc. They cross state and international lines without regard, and their reach is from the streets to prisons to crooked lawyers, law enforcement personnel, and officials on their payrolls. Yes, it’s sickening to consider how many cops and federal agents have been apprehended in past years for “being on the take” and assisting the gangs and cartels—but the millions of dollars flowing like a waterfall before a thirsty man, is truly the devil’s temptation.
“Johnny, in your career, you’ve seen a lot of bad things. Is there anything specific that bothered you the most?” I asked, expecting him to sit back in his chair and think a while.
“Seeing children be brought into the prisons to visit their fathers,” he replied without hesitation. “When we were doing special ops in the prisons, I saw women bringing their children with them while they visited their husbands or boyfriends. Same thing when the men brought kids to visit their mothers.”
I was prepared for an answer about decapitated heads or battered women forced into sexual slavery, but children in prison visitation rooms wasn’t on my radar.
“Why that of all things?”
“Because the cycle is never broken. The kids grow up accepting violence, crime and prison as a way of life. It’s what their parents did so nothing is wrong. They’re indoctrinated into the criminal world as children and some will never break the way they think.”
“So the chain will never be broken. Gangs will always be around?” I understood his point.
“We can slow their activities, but never fully stop them. Street gangs are ruled from prisons across the nation. They live and die by violence. Street gangs, prison gangs, cartels… one keeps the other going. There are a few people that break out and turn good, but they’re the exception to the rule.”
“Did you ever worry about retaliation to your family?” I asked, thinking about the newer Italian mob members who followed none of the old rules.
“No. I never had a problem in what I’ll call ‘the old days.’ These guys live by respect and odd codes of honor even though it’s violent. I treated them with respect when I arrested them. Disrespect only created further problems. In the old days it was easy to have a professional sort of respect toward one another. They knew I was chasing them and I knew they were running. When I caught them, they knew the game was up. I arrested them in a professional manner and they never gave me problems… I still see a lot of the ‘old’ guys. But the new breed of gang members doesn’t necessarily conduct themselves like that. They will do anything. The more vicious they can be, the more they like it.”
And for the remainder of our discussion, I sat wondering how this quiet-natured, friendly guy had managed to retain his sanity after years of working in life’s sewer. Johnny will probably retire in a few more years. It’s a shame to think of the vast knowledge that will leave law enforcement with him.
“Rocky,” on the other hand, was friendly because he knew I had been a cop, but I don’t believe I’d want to know he was chasing me. He reminded me of an old wolf in a forest that knew all the tricks of the trade to hunt down his prey. Like Johnny, Rocky knew the gangs, their affiliations, tactics and crimes… seemingly everything. From conversations with others, I knew what he said was true. He wasn’t trying to blow smoke or pound his chest so to speak. While we talked, he casually kept watch on everyone around us. I liked that. It reminded me of an old veteran officer’s saying about remaining alert so you could remain alive. No cop’s ever been shot by a pair of empty hands.
“What’s the biggest drug problem?”
“Methamphetamines,” Rocky replied immediately.
“Meth is giving everyone problems. Heroin has always been around,” he said, and proceeded to break meth down by quantity, costs, stepping it, and its migration by gangs and cartels throughout the lands.
All I could do was sit and shake my head at the monumental logistics required to move drugs throughout Europe, bypass certain cartels, and move the drugs back into the US. And along with that operation came human trafficking, murders, and a score of other activities.
I liked Rocky. Hell, I liked everyone at the TGIA conference I came into contact with. These were the men and women who were putting their lives on the line. They stand on the beach, trying to hold back the ocean waves of crime even though it seems useless. But they are still trying because they want to protect people, even those who demonstrate against them and use high political offices to further bias against them.
TGIA membership consists of people from different levels of the judicial system; local, state and federal officers, prison officers, probation officers, judges, etc. They work hand in hand to investigate, prosecute, and control the gangs with all the related crimes. Most of the men and women will never be known for what they do. They do their jobs in a shadow world and try to go home safely at night to their families. What they see each day weighs heavily upon them, yet they try to maintain a semblance of sanity in the belief that there are still good people worth protecting in this infested world.
The “Blue Line” across this nation is made of thousands of outstanding people. Yes, there are a few bad apples but when the numbers are counted; the bad apples are a mere fraction of a percentage of all the good cops.
My thanks go out to the men and women of the Blue who protect us daily.
Blue Lives Matter. All Lives Matter.