Operation Gang Up

Warning Signs

Times Tribune
Keystone students learn the reality of gang life

April 10, 2013

LA PLUME - If graffiti marking Keystone College as "B.H.P." turf starts turning up on campus buildings, blame Capt. Robert Maguire.
Using a student's name, the intelligence captain for Lackawanna County Prison created the "Brittany H. Posse" on Tuesday during Operation Gang Up, a gang awareness training program for criminal justice and education majors at Keystone.

Hammering out the initial details, such as gang colors, signs and graffiti logos, brought some laughs before Capt. Maguire's talk turned to recruiting and initiation rituals.

"Get an enemy's - or really anyone's - blood on your hands," he said, describing how new members are "blooded" into a gang.
Operation Gang Up took shape in early 2011, when U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke, came together to discuss rising gang activity in Northeast Pennsylvania. The region sits at a crossroads between New York City and Philadelphia. Both major cities are roughly two to three hours away, and customers here will pay big-city prices for illegal drugs, the lifeblood of gangs, Capt. Maguire said.
"There is a high markup on drugs here," he said.

Capt. Maguire schooled students on recognizing signs that might indicate gang activity. A key component in fighting gangs is teachers who know what to look for, he said. Warning signs include interest in particular colors of clothing or logos, unexplained physical injuries, unexplained wealth, withdrawing from family members and trouble with authority figures.

Gang activity can start early, Capt. Maguire said. In his career with numerous gang investigative organizations, he has encountered a gang member as young as 8 years old. Gang members typically start young and die young, he said. The average life expectancy for someone in a gang is 23.

Gangs also develop their own languages, Capt. Maguire said. Graffiti and messages are often written in alternative alphabets that change regularly.

Capt. Maguire recalled an occasion on which a note being passed to a gang member in jail was intercepted but indecipherable to all but a few in the FBI. Once it was decoded, agents learned it was instructions for making a mail bomb. Soon after, the inmate sent another message written in a completely different code.

"They are constantly changing their alphabets," Capt. Maguire said.
Contact the writer:, @jkohutTT on Twitter

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