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WASHINGTON — Military officials say they are carefully monitoring gang activity in the services and don’t see any signs of an upswing of gang members among the ranks.

Officials are aware of law enforcement reports and an Army Criminal Investigation Command report distributed late last year showing that gang-related incidents among soldiers nearly tripled from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2006.

“CID has included all of these incidents and investigations in this report because this is a threat assessment to protect the force,” said Chris Grey, chief of public affairs for Army CID.

“We take that very seriously, and are reviewing the data to see if there are any identifiable reasons for the increase that we can pass along to the Army.”

Defense Department officials said they are watching for trends, too, as well as working with the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons on gang-related issues.

Each service sponsors gang-identification and gang-prevention classes for troops and their families, and has programs and policies to deal with gang members, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton said.

“Gang activity is contrary to good order and discipline in the armed forces,” he said. “Engagement in criminal activity, whether or not it is associated with a gang, is serious in any form.”

Defense Department policy prohibits membership in any organizations that “espouse supremacist causes; attempt to create illegal discrimination …; advocate the use of force or violence; or otherwise engage in efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.”

It also allows commanders to dismiss a recruit or servicemember who supports or participates in any such group.

Air Force rules mirror the Defense Department policy. Army policy is broader, allowing commanders to discipline any soldier who belongs to any group that “could threaten the good order and discipline of a unit.”

Navy rules, which include Marines, prohibit any tattoos that symbolize gang affiliation, and mandate disciplinary action for any servicemember belonging to an “extremist” group.

However, the FBI report notes neither these policies nor the general DOD rules mandate that commanders must dismiss servicemembers who belong to gangs.

That’s left to their discretion. Actions can range from simple counseling to expulsion from the military.

Upton would not comment on that finding from the FBI.

The rules also don’t prohibit recruits with gang tattoos or past gang history from joining the military, as long as they disclose them and convince officials that their gang affiliation is a thing of the past.

But Army rules prohibit the consideration of any recruits with convictions for trafficking or distributing drugs, or any sexually violent crimes. Defense policy notes that gang membership could be a sign of mental health issues.

Read the full reports ...

The 2005 National Gang Threat Assessment

The Army Criminal Investigation Command’s FY 2006 Gang Activity Threat Assessment

A January, 2007 FBI report on gang-related activity in the Armed Forces

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