06/23/10 — Outlaw riders a threat to region

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Outlaw riders a threat to region

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 23, 2010 1:46 PM

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Steve Cook, right, an expert on motorcycle gangs, explains to local law enforcement officers how to look for weapons or drugs hidden on a bike. Cook taught classes Monday and Tuesday at Wayne Community College on techniques officers can use to thwart such gangs.

No one should not be misled by romanticized images of outlaw motorcycle gang members, an authority on the groups told members of the law enforcement community Tuesday.

They are dangerous and violent criminals who bring nothing positive to a community, Steve Cook said.

Cook was at Wayne Community College this week, teaching law enforcement officers how to deal gangs and the crime that comes along with them.

More than 40 local law enforcement officers from the Wayne and Duplin sheriff's offices and Goldsboro and Mount Olive police departments attended the seminar.

Lawmen say the gangs are not a serious problem in Wayne County, although several have a presence here.

Now is the time to confront the issue before they can secure a foothold here, Cook said.

"You have an area that is evolving," Cook said in an interview. "You have groups like the Pagans that have a design, so to speak, on potentially moving into this area. What I am trying to relate to the officers is that this is a good time to knock them out before they get set up and established. Get the identification side down and let (law enforcement) know how they operate, how they are structured, the kind of crimes they are involved in and help them identify what they look for when they are attracting new members, what they look for when they are looking for areas to set up shop."

The gangs are looking not to get noticed, Cook said.

"Basically they are looking for areas where they are not going to get bothered by the police," he said.

Cook applauded Sheriff Carey Winders for being proactive enough to identify that there is an issue on the horizon.

"There is some indication some of them may be trying to establish in Wayne and surrounding counties," Winders said. "There are some Pagans and Outlaws for example. That is my concern."

Winders said local law enforcement knew about Cook and the programs he has presented in other areas. He said he was pleased with the attendance at Wayne County's program.

"We have some Misplaced Souls, Ghost Riders and a few Pagans," said Trey Rhodes, clinical educator and assistant manager of Wayne County Emergency Medical Services and a special deputy with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office. "It is not a real problem, yet. He is teaching how to talk to them and handle them if they have to do a traffic stop on them -- basically law enforcement training for the outlaw motorcycle folks."

Cook also demonstrated how to identify patches and tattoos as well as which gangs are affiliated with other gangs and which are friendly with one another.

Cook has appeared in three episodes of the History Channel's "Gangland" cable television series and as an archive contributor on a fourth. He has been in law enforcement for 16 years in the Kansas City area and has been involved in motorcycle gang investigations his entire career.

"I took an interest in them when I was working as a civilian jailer based on individuals being brought into the facility that I had access to and conversations with," he said.

He also has worked in narcotics and had the opportunity to specialize in motorcycle gang investigations including working as a case agent in an investigation where law enforcement officers formed their own motorcycle gang to interact with other outlaw motorcycle gangs."

Cook said he puts on about 25 motorcycle gang conferences annually across the country.

He said he is familiar enough with North Carolina to know that there are Hell's Angels chapters in Fayetteville and Durham and that the Pagans are making themselves known around the state as well.

"That is a concern, they (Pagans) are on the rebound now," he said. "They have had some major problems with the federal government as of late with criminal cases, and they are trying to re-establish themselves, and this is a good area for them to do that."

The problem that citizens need to realize is that with the two Hell's Angels chapters already in operation, Pagans coming this close to their turf could cause issues, Cook said.

"They (Hell's Angels) cannot allow these guys to do that," he said. "It would be a slap in the face to them. They will be expected to come here and move these guys out, which is going to lead to problems. Everybody is out to protect their piece of the pie and they react violently to one another to ensure they can keep an area they regard as their own," Cook said. "It usually ends in violence."

The move by the Pagans, an East Coast gang that is "pretty well" spread out and established, could be seen as disrespect, but at the same time an attempt to cut in on profits, he said.

"As far as being a domestic threat, they (motorcycle gangs) are probably as high up there as you can get," Cook said. "They have surpassed the traditional Italian Mafia. They are much more sophisticated, much more organized. They have the ability to reach out further.

"Their influence is international in scope. They are a significant threat, and they probably are also one of the least acknowledged or paid attention to."

The clubs' crimes primarily center on drug manufacturing and distribution. Motorcycle theft is a huge moneymaker, as well, Cook said. Members also are involved in extortion, assaults, murder and any kind of racketeering.

"Average citizens need to be aware of these groups and pay attention to them," Cook said. "They are not good guys. They are organized crime. People are wrapped in watching shows like Sons of Anarchy and thinking it is just entertainment, but the bottom line is that these guys are involved in a lot of heinous activities.

"They are very violent. They are very criminally active and it is the public's responsibility as well to notify law enforcement if they see, if somebody is moving into your neighborhood or they see them frequenting a business, turn that information over to police so they can deal with it and can get these guys moved on down the road. They bring nothing positive to the community."