Detective Gives Inside Look at Teen Gangs

March 21, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Raanan Geberer

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BOERUM HILL — If your son, daughter or other young relative  starts staying out late without reason, stops being interested in school, has an unusual desire for secrecy, starts getting tattoos at a very young age or often comes home with bruises and other injuries, there’s a good chance that youngster may have joined a gang.

Even though youth gangs are often romanticized in the media, involvement in the gang life could have negative repercussions for years for an adolescent or young adult. So said Detective Erin Vitale of the NYPD’s Gang Division, speaking at the monthly meeting of the 84th Precinct Community Council on Tuesday night.

Vitale stressed that gang activity is very low in the 84th Precinct,which stretches from Boerum Hill to DUMBO, although there are  small groups of Bloods and Latin Kings in the area. Still, she said, gang members don’t always fit the profile of coming from troubled families in low-income areas. “It’s across the board,” she said.

In the past, gang members were usually in their mid- or late teens, but today young people are often joining gangs as young as 13 or 14. The Internet, she added, has given new challenges to law enforcement agencies. “Most of today’s young people who join gangs are either recruited in the schoolyard or through gang-related websites and social networks,” she said.

Other clues for parents about possible gang membership, Vitale said, can include youngsters drawing violence-related pictures in a notebook, wearing only one color of clothing, wearing only one brand of clothing, and coming home with unexplained items.

“If you didn’t buy them an iPad, and they come home with one, it’s time to start asking questions,” she said in response to a question. “As parents, you have every right to inspect your children’s rooms, computers and belongings.”

The motives for joining gangs, she said, can vary — they’re often connected to status, or merely a desire to protect oneself in a rough neighborhood. However, once a youngster has a gang arrest on his record, the odds of his getting a city job are very slim. In addition, if the youth’s parents are living in public housing, an arrest could create eligibility problems for the family.

Vitale also talked about the Gang Division itself. The unit, headquartered in the Brooklyn Army Terminal, assists precinct detective squads and responds to “every shooting and every stabbing.” Its members don’t wear uniforms, and attrition has reduced its numbers from almost 300 cops in the past to about 170 today.

As usual, the precinct council’s president, Leslie Lewis, and the 84th’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Mark DiPaolo, honored a “cop of the month.” This month’s honoree was Officer John Epstein, the precinct’s traffic safety officer.

When he heard a radio call about an armed robbery in front of 114 Remsen St., Brooklyn Heights, he immediately went there and saw three men pointing a gun at two victims. When one of the victims refused to surrender property, the robbers decided to flee in a car. Epstein got into his car and chased them. After the suspects’ car hit another car, Epstein arrested them and found the firearm.  All three had long arrest records.

Tuesday night’s meeting took place in the Hopkins Center, an adult home on Hoyt Street.

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