GANGS.COM / Crews Show Off Their Colors and Lifestyles on Web

Gangs on the Web. Chronicle Illustration by Dan Hubig

Street gangs have found new turf to defend: the Internet.

An underworld of Web sites created by gangs has sprung up to display their colors and symbols -- and to warn off enemies, according to law enforcement agencies.

But some anti-gang forces have put pressure on the Internet companies that host these Web sites to shut them down, raising freedom-of-expression issues.

"There are thousands of gang-related Web sites," said Chuck Zeglin, a detective supervisor with the Los Angeles Police Department who has monitored the phenomenon. However, not all gang-related sites are connected to real gangs, he said.

"Only about 20 to 30 percent of them now -- it is increasing -- are run by active hard-core gang members," with the others being created by former gang members or people simply interested in gangs, Zeglin said. Kevin McGee, San Mateo's deputy district attorney, said he's found that many message postings on gang sites come from bored suburban teenagers, not gangsters.

One part of the life that has not been seen much online is the crime. Zeglin recalls one Web site, www.killercop.com, that offered rewards for murdering Los Angeles police officers a few years ago. But since the LAPD had that site removed, Zeglin has not seen street gangs doing anything illegal online. Most gang members, even those with the basic skills required to set up a rudimentary Web site, don't have the know-how to carry out online fraud or hacking, Zeglin believes.

"I can't see them getting that sophisticated, to be serious hackers," Garcia-Hallcom, the professor, agreed.

There are a few so-called "cybergangs" that exist solely online. "If we get lots and lots of people like 200 and then we go out and make a big hit we'll be known to half the Web," read a page from one group.

Some local police officers who follow gangs were surprised to hear that gang members even have access to the Internet. But "Lista," a former gang member who volunteers as an online counselor for a site called GangStyle (www. gangstyle.com), believes that Web access is not out of reach for many gangsters these days.