LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3.com) --
Graffiti has long been used by gangs to mark their territory and communicate messages. But these days, gang graffiti is all about posting and tagging online.
Gangs are embracing a more modern way to make their presence felt, and, in many cases, further their criminal enterprises.
“Our society at large and particularly our younger generations are better educated,” said Lt. Chris Petko of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Gang Unit. “They're certainly better informed and more technologically savvy than any of us were back in our time. And they have utilized that to their full advantage."
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Petko says gang members use online tools to plan crimes, recruit members and challenge or threaten rivals. One very common type of activity is the Facebook party.
“They can do what we refer to as a Facebook blast and have people at this party in 10, 15 minutes,” Petko said.
Metro Sgt. Will Huddler says gang members have a propensity to post pictures of themselves and their friends online.
“You have to monitor social media,” Huddler said. “But you know people are very careful about what they post. Sometimes folks get reckless with what they post.”
Huddler says sometimes they are pictured holding guns, money or drugs. The Gang Unit uses social media as a tool to track gang members and their criminal activity. They also use it to gather evidence.
“As an investigator -- just like you as an investigative reporter -- you're going to use every means, every resource available to gather as many facts and circumstances before you present your story. We do the same thing,” he said.
Another challenge for police: Gang members on the streets go online to monitor the movements of police officers and warn one another, giving an “all clear" when officers depart.
Huddler says that information spreads fast, which makes an already difficult job harder.
The use of smart phones and social media is shaping a new communication reality for gangs today, creating a communication nightmare for law enforcement.