The Violent Gang and Terrorist Organizations File

Article excerpt

Both the World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City tragedy stand in testament to the formidable threat to U.S. citizens and property posed by international and domestic terrorists. The horror of such incidents reinforces the need for law enforcement to know the identities and operations of terrorist groups within this country.

Similarly, over the last several years, law enforcement has encountered an increasing number of organized criminal groups that are actively involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, political corruption, and even contract murders. Moreover, the number of youths involved with these gangs is staggering. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, killings by juvenile gang members increased 500 percent between 1980 and 1994, making this one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States.(1)

Gangs even have infiltrated U.S. institutions once thought to be immune. Firmly entrenched in correctional facilities, they now search for a foothold in the military.(2) Indeed, many large gangs have nationwide followings, and some groups have world wide memberships in structures resembling organized crime families.

As they search for new markets in which to operate, these groups export their corruption to smaller towns, which often have limited resources. Unfortunately, unlike many of their larger counterparts, small-town police departments usually do not have a database from which they can retrieve information to help them identify and, in turn, combat the acts of gang and terrorist group members.

The Violent Gang and Terrorist Organizations File (VGTOF) was designed to help law enforcement do just that. Implemented in October 1995 as a component of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), it acts as a pointer system, identifying known members of violent gangs and terrorist organizations and facilitating the exchange of information. By alerting law enforcement officers to potentially dangerous subjects, the VGTOF enhances their safety. In short, the VGTOF provides every U.S. law enforcement agency access to valuable information on a growing crime problem that threatens the safety of officers and citizens in an increasing number of communities.

The VGTOF consists of two major classifications: the Group Reference Capability (GRC) and Group Member Capability (GMC). The GRC provides information on terrorist groups and gangs, while the GMC identifies individual members.

To be included in the VGTOF, terrorist groups and gangs must meet the definitions ascribed to them by NCIC.(3) Similarly, individuals must meet certain criteria, which positively identify them as members of a terrorist group or gang.(4) After verifying and documenting that these conditions have been met, law enforcement agencies can enter the appropriate data into the VGTOF.

Establishing a Group Record

Procedures for entering information into NCIC vary. In some states, a control terminal agency, such as the state police, maintains the system for the entire state. In others, individual agencies can enter their own data. Whatever their state's policy, law enforcement agencies that encounter individuals belonging to an organization meeting the NCIC definition of either a violent gang or terrorist group first must establish a group record.

In addition to a special NCIC code that corresponds to each group, the GRC contains what is known as essential identifying data. That is, only traits generally associated with this group that would help identify its members and activities are entered. For a group record, these would include such items as what members wear, how they communicate (hand signals, graffiti), and the types of crimes they commit.

So that querying departments can obtain additional information, the primary agency(5) enters its name, as well as a point of contact. The GRC also includes other agencies that can provide additional details about the group. …