CRASH--Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums--was a group of elite anti-gang units
within the L.A.P.D. set up to tackle increasing gang-related crime. CRASH
officers were required to get to know gang members--their names, habits,
friends--to keep on top of gang activity. The units were successful, city-wide,
in reducing gang related crime. But some critics, especially after Rafael
Perez's allegations surfaced, believed that CRASH administered rough street
justice--harassing and abusing suspects and falsifying reports. Worse, others
accused CRASH members of being a police gang themselves. Here are the views of
former L.A.P.D. Chief Daryl Gates, Sgt. Brian Liddy, Ruben Rojas, a Temple
Street gang member, Gerald Chaleff, former president of the L.A. Police
Commission, and Detective Mike Hohan, principal investigator on the Rampart
Corruption Task Force.
Fmr. Chief Daryl Gates
Chief of L.A.P.D., 1978-1992
What kind of cops went into [CRASH]?
You try to select the very best--individuals who are not afraid--people who are
willing to work, people who are willing to get out and mix with the gangs, and
get a better understanding of the gangs, who are not intimidated by the
As the chief, did you see that these units were effective? If there is a war
on gangs, were you all winning it?
I think so. I think we were bringing gang killings down substantially from what
they were in the 1970s, and into the 1980s. There was a proliferation of gang killings, again, fed by the narcotics
industry, yet we were slowly bringing the gang killings themselves down.
Sergeant Brian Liddy
Former CRASH officer implicated by Rafael Perez
What is a CRASH unit?
The primary mission of the CRASH unit is to gather intelligence on the criminal
street gangs that exist within their geographic division and to monitor their
There are kind of two sides to it. There's the intelligence side, where you
kind of got to know all these people by their nicknames, where they hang out,
what kind of cars they drive. Then there's the crime suppression mode, where
you're out trying to keep them from doing drive-bys and robberies and
extortion, spray painting the buildings--the criminal end of their
You're a cop. You have a chance to get on a CRASH unit. What's it like?
What's the perception of a CRASH unit?
A CRASH unit is a good job. As far as going to work every day, you're not tied
to the radio or the computer. As a rule, you're not going to domestic violences
and traffic accidents and all the day-to-day business of a policeman in any
city. You're just dealing with gang members. You're not being assigned radio
calls unless it strictly pertains to gang activity. You're supervised, but
you're supervised at a different level. You're expected to be mature,
responsible, go out there and do what you're supposed to do. The supervisors
make sure that you're doing that.
A lot of different tasks go with it. The CRASH unit would be tasked with a lot
of different events. If there's a concert at MacArthur Park, the CRASH unit
would be deployed to try and keep the gang element out of the park. We know who
the gangsters are, even if they don't come dressed up in their gang attire.
We're able to look over and say, "Oh, that's so and so from the such and such
gang. Keep an eye on him, see what he's up to."...
As a CRASH officer, you're assigned to a specific gang. I wouldn't give any
gang the benefit of saying their name in an interview, but let's say the "ABC"
gang. I get assigned to the ABC gang. It's my job to know who's in that gang,
what their nicknames are, where their girlfriend's pad is, what kind of cars
they ride around in, what their tattoos are, where mom lives. So when the
heat's on, we know that they go to mom's house over in another neighborhood. We
get to know as much [as possible] about that gang. That includes knowing the
history of the gang--how it started, where it originated, how it came to be,
what the gang is all about.
Some gangs are into stolen cars. Some gangs are into dope. Some gangs are into
robberies. Some gangs are into burglaries. Then the bigger gangs have different
cells--this group of gangsters sells dope, this group of gangsters does this.
You need to know all that to be an expert on the gang that you're assigned
...How can you ever relate enough to a gangster to be able
to understand them?
You go out and you talk to them every day, eight hours a day. That's what your
job is in CRASH is: get out and get into these gangsters and talk to them on a
daily basis. That's how you get to know them.
Are you ever able to actually sort of know them, to just know them as human
Yes, absolutely. Drive up in parking lots, they'll come up to the car. "Hey,
Liddy, what's going on?" "Hey, guys, what's happening?" They know you. They'll
tell you, "Hey, you were off for two days. Where you been? You got a new car."
They know everything about you because, to a certain extent, they're trying to
do the same thing. They know when you come around, if you're always around, if
you're sneaky when you come around or if you make a lot of noise when you come
And they're going to gauge you as an officer. They know the CRASH officer's
different than the patrol officers. You get out and it's a fine line of keeping
the balance. But you get out, just you and your partner, and you'll stop ten
gangsters on their turf. You'll pat them down, make sure they don't have any
guns or anything; then you'll talk to them. "What's going on? What are you guys
doing? Hey, we heard that so-and-so got killed last week. What happened?" "Oh,
those fools from the other neighborhood drove by and shot him." "Hey, when's
his funeral?" "We don't know yet, because we don't have enough money to bury
him. His family can't afford to bury him. We're having a car wash on Tuesday."
So you speak to them, and you find out what's going on in that neighborhood.
There's times that you pull up and you say, "Hey, how's your mom?" because you
knew mom was in the hospital. You knew that a brother got hit by a car. You
might have one kid who's a hard core-gangster and the rest of his brothers and
sisters are good kids, and you'll talk to him about that. But mostly you're
talking to them about the gang, what's going on in the gang. "Who are you
feuding with? Who's doing drive-bys on you? Who's your enemies? What's
happening with the Mexican mafia? Are they still taxing you? Are you still
paying taxes to the Mexican mafia?"
Now, the other end from the intelligence is you're getting radio calls. They're
spray painting buildings. They're drinking and breaking the glass in the
street. They're taxing people. And by taxing people, if you've got a little
pushcart down in MacArthur Park and you're wheeling it around on the 18th
Street side of the park, you're paying 18th Street a certain amount of dollars
to have your pushcart. If you've got a little store on Alvarado Boulevard,
you're paying 18th Street X number of dollars to have your little store.
If you're a dope dealer at MacArthur Park and you're not an 18th Street dope
dealer, you're giving 18th Street a piece of the action. And that's the way
it's going to be. Otherwise, you will get shot or you will get beaten.
So you were saying that, on the intelligence side, you mentioned there are
people doing graffiti. One gathers that graffiti is not merely just an urban
art form, that in fact there was much that a CRASH officer could learn from the
graffiti. Tell me about that.
...It's almost like reading the paper. You drive through, and you
see who's spray painting the wall in front of the apartment, because what
they're doing is, they're claiming their territory. You go by this apartment
building and you've got the gang name up. You've got ten names underneath
it--that's the ten guys that were out last night when you went home, if that
wasn't there the day before.
What you might see is a gang throws up another gang's name, crosses it out,
crosses it out, maybe wrote somebody's name and crossed it out. You go over to
Homicide and you say, "Hey, did so-and-so get killed?" "He got shot last night
in a drive-by." "Well, you know what? This gang might have done it, because his
name was up on the wall over here, and then they crossed it out. And here's the
list of the dummies that then wrote their nicknames next to it." That's the
mentality that exists. Then these idiots are sitting in the interview room with
you going, "Hey, how did you know it was me?" I don't know.
It tells you who's coming through the neighborhood. If you go to the red gang's
neighborhood and the green gang has came through, you will see their graffiti.
They'll cross out the red gang's graffiti. They will then put up their own
stuff. The red gang will now come by, cross out the green graffiti, put up
their stuff.... The green gang will come back. This will go on back and forth
for days, weeks. Sometimes that's all that ever happens. But at other times,
these guys will sit up and lay in wait. When the green gang comes through, the
red gang opens up on them and shoots them because they were on their turf. It's
all about turf and challenges and lots of imaginary feuds.
What was your scariest moment as a CRASH cop?
I think the scariest moments are when somebody else calls for help and you
don't know what's going on, and you're trying to get there. Officers report
shots fired. They're taking rounds or something like that. You're going to the
help call, and you don't know if some cop you know is laying bleeding, some cop
is hurt. Something like that. And there's times you get shot at. Then, of
course, those are scary.
Did you wear a vest every day?
That's just standard issue routine stuff for a CRASH cop, right?
Yes. It depends. [You never know, there could be a] guy from a gang that you
know and you talk to on a daily basis. He'll stop and he'll call you by name,
"Hey, Liddy, what's up?" On this wrong day, he's just coming from having done
some heinous crime, and you go, "Hey, come here, Droopy," and he turns and
wheels on you with a gun. So that's the fine line you're talking about when you
deal with these gangsters. You go out there, and you have to almost be on a
cordial basis with them while you talk to them and what's going on in the
neighborhood. But that little group that was sitting there when you pulled up
could be planning on committing an armored car robbery, a bank robbery, store
robbery, a drive-by shooting--you don't know what they're up to....
Give me a sense of whether or not the work you all were doing in CRASH was
effective at all.
... Through a combination of things, CRASH being one part of it, I think there
was an impact on the quality of life in Rampart Division, in the level of
violence and the level of crime that the gangs were participating in.... In
1990, I believe Rampart had right around 150 murders in the division. In 1997,
it was down to about 33.
When I left Rampart, in the afternoon, people would take their kids to the park
and play at Rampart. When I had first went to Rampart, nobody took their kids
to the park. So the quality of life in those eight years had changed
drastically in Rampart. Crime was down. The gangs were nowhere near as bold as
they had been. They had taken to staying in the back of the buildings and not
showing their face, because they could expect to get visited by the CRASH
Did you all feel like you were part of an elite team?
Yes, we were special--not in the sense that we were better than anybody. But we
were a specialized unit. We got to drive unmarked cars versus driving the
black-and-white. We weren't tied to the regular radio call stuff. We got to
pick and choose what we wanted to do, to a certain extent. Do we want to go to
that call or not? You were sought out by other officers for gang
Tell me about the CRASH logo I've seen--aces and eights.
It was there when I got to the unit. I didn't know what it was. I heard it was
a dead man's hand. I didn't know what a dead man's hand was. It was like a
white skull with a cowboy hat on it, with the regular Rampart castle on the
cowboy hat, and four cards that I guess are the dead man's hand. When all this
Rampart controversy started is really the first whole story of the logo that I
heard. I just knew it was on our T-shirts....
Was there ever an acceptance, a condoning, a kind of quiet acquiescence of
stretching the technical aspects of the rules a little bit in a unit like CRASH
where it's not so easy, where it's not cut-and-dried, ordinary run-of-the-mill
sorts of arrests? An occasional stretch about probable cause, for example?
Those sorts of things. Was that accepted within CRASH?...
It's not accepted within the Los Angeles Police Department in any [unit]... One
of the greatest things about the Los Angeles Police Department is that it holds
its head up high, because it doesn't have any real corruption problems, so to
speak of. It's an honest police department. It can be called a lot of things.
But until now, it's never been called a dishonest police department.
Did you ever hear of, see, sense, or suspect somebody making up probable
Did you ever see or hear or suspect somebody laying down a gun on a
So as far as you knew, neither you nor Ray Perez nor anybody on your unit
that you actually witnessed or heard of was involved in force
No. Policing a place like Rampart, there's no need for starters. It's right
there under your nose. I mean, you drive down a street and these guys are just
standing out with a bag of dope in their hand waving at cars. You're sitting at
traffic lights, and guys walk across the street in front of you with a rifle in
their hands. You don't need to fabricate anything.
Temple Street gang member
What was CRASH?
CRASH was basically an organization that was created like a gang. Their method
was to get us off the street, to arrest as many gang members as possible and
lock them up. That's what the CRASH unit was based on. But their theory on the
street was more like they're just making money off them. The corruption in
Rampart has always been going on, [but] it's just [that] someone just got
caught. But even back in my days, when I was hanging around in Rampart area, it
was always going on.... You wake up in the morning and you're a young man, and
you know that at any moment a police can just come up to you and just shoot
you, man. Because that's what Rampart was really based on anyway....
At what point did it go beyond just doing good police work?
A lot of times the CRASH unit would observe our houses. They would have
surveillance. I guess they became interested in what we were doing. I guess
they became kind of a child inside of them, because they would see us fight,
and they liked it. They liked it very much. They would drive up into a
neighborhood and snatch one of the guys that know how to fight real well. And
they'll take them to another neighborhood just to see them fight.
So that's what I'm saying. It was exciting. Their job was to keep us off the
street.... But they just forgot that, you know? You just don't put cops in
neighborhoods like that, because there is a lot of temptation, and the
temptation will get you. You will bite into it--especially in West L.A.
Because these guys would go native?
Oh, yes, man, all the time. They would sometimes even buy us beer, man. It was
a very exciting life. It was knowing that these are cops. I would tell my mom a
lot. "Mom, you know what? You're a taxpayer, you put money in those cops'
pockets. You feed their families. But do you know that they're committing more
crimes than what I have done?" It was an everyday thing.
Are you talking about committing crime in the sense of making bad arrests,
or are you talking about committing crimes like doing things like real
gangsters are doing--peddling dope, that sort of thing?
You know what I can say about that? They were a wannabe mafia....
Former President of the LA Police Commission
What sort of officer would be ideal [for CRASH]?
They were some of the most, you could say, gung-ho or ambitious officers that
wanted to get into this office, because it was highly prized, and they had
freedom of movement and activity.
Were they effective?
Well, it depends on who you talk to as to what they did. Obviously, we've had
a lot of problems with what's come out in the last couple of years, but gang
violence went down....
Was this particular CRASH unit a bunch of rogue cowboy vigilante
... First of all, there was something in L.A.P.D.
called "the Rampart Way,"--things in Rampart were done differently. But second
of all, this particular Rampart unit was in a building away from the main
station because of space problems, without supervision. So you had these
sergeants, senior police officers and others doing whatever they wanted to.
That's always a problem.
What was "the Rampart Way"?
That's just the way of how they dealt with things. I don't know if they ever
really totally defined it. But Rampart had its own unique way of doing things.
Also, Rampart had a unique population. Many people in that community are
recent immigrants from Central and South America. They expected the police
department to act differently than others might expect the police department.
So I think they developed their own methodology of how they wanted to deal with
Many people who would say that the CRASH unit in Rampart became just another
gang, and that's how they dealt with things. If some of the things that are
alleged are true--and I'm certain that some of them are--they were as violent
as gang members are, and they cut corners.
We, as a society, always have to deal with the problem of, what kind of
policing do we want? You could really have effective policing if you have a
police officer on every corner, and if you say to the police officers, "You
don't have to follow any rules. You just go find the bad guys." But that
obviously creates problems, because then you're letting the police department
decide what the bad guys are, and what the rules are.
We developed this constitutional system that has kept us going for over 200
years with the type of society we want, so we need effective policing within
the rules. I think sometimes, in places where officers are not supervised--and
CRASH is one of them--or don't have rules that they're following, you end up
with officers acting extra-judicially, or outside the law.
Detective Mike Hohan
L.A.P.D. Detective, principal investigator on the Rampart Corruption Task
Tell me what Perez told you about the CRASH unit's sort of ethos. He talked
about a motto at one point that the CRASH unit had.
Something like, "We intimidate those who intimidate," or something to that
effect. I believe that had to deal with that they created such fear in the gang
members, because no matter what had to be done, again, stretching whatever had
to be stretched, you would go to jail if you were a gang member. He told us
that officers in the CRASH unit carried what we call our drop guns, which are
guns that they recover on the street, but they don't recover them from anybody.
The policy would be to book them as evidence. And what these CRASH officers
would do, including Perez, is keep them. When they found a gang member that
they wanted to go to prison or wanted to go to jail, they would plant one of
these guns on him. They would do a similar thing with rock cocaine.
Did he tell him about what he and other officers did when they would find
dope on the street?
Yes. They would hold back some of the narcotics. They would use it to give to
informants. They would use it to plant on people that they couldn't get a case
on any other way.
So as he was describing it, this was a police gang.
Within this sort of secret club within the CRASH unit, there was actually a
kind of system of reward and recognition, wasn't there?
Yes. They would give plaques. And they had tattoos and patches that they wore
on jackets, sort of like bomber jackets that they had. And the tattoo and the
patch had a cowboy hat with a skull, and then aces and eights on it. The aces
and eights, of course, stood for the dead man's hand that Wild Bill Hickock
had. When an officer was involved in a shooting and the officer had a hit, he
would get a plaque that had the aces and eights in it, a patch, and some other
memorabilia. And allegedly, they would put a couple of shell casings for the
number of times that the officer hit the person he was shooting at. There were
two types of plaques. One was for a fatal shooting, and one was for when they
So that was the culture that Perez described to you all. What did you find?
Were you able to verify that? How widespread was it?
It did exist within the unit. It had existed for a period of time. Not every
officer was involved in that. Officers came into the unit, saw that mentality,
and left the unit. But it definitely did exist.
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