Hospital Told How to Identify and Handle Gang Members
PHOTOGRAPHS of handkerchiefs in primary colors, hats, jerseys, necklaces with distinctive marks — all were flashed on a screen behind Raymond Vonderheide, a senior officer with the State Parole Board, as he addressed a crowd of nearly 100 on the telltale signs of gang membership.
The crowd did not include law enforcement personnel, educators or students. They were all employees at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
“Gang members come to the hospital too,” Mr. Vonderheide said. “As we have more and more gang incidents in the state, it’s good for hospital personnel to know what they’re dealing with.”
Mr. Vonderheide and other officers from the State Parole Board have given the gang presentation to a dozen hospitals throughout the state, from Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden to the Jersey City Medical Center in Jersey City. Mary Ditri, director of professional practice for the New Jersey Hospital Association, said the association reached out to the parole board after altercations involving gang members were reported in other states.
“Rather than wait and be reactive, we wanted to be proactive and arm hospital workers with awareness just of how to do their jobs better,” she said.
Terry Bertolotti, patient care director for Englewood Hospital, stressed that no gang member would be cared for differently than any other patient. With the information from the presentation, hospital workers, particularly security, could help stave off altercations between suspected gang members and employees, or between rival gangs.
“You have to protect your workers and the other patients,” she said.
Sheriff Leo P. McGuire, of Bergen County, said there were 69 confirmed gang members and more than 200 suspected gang members in the Bergen County Jail as of February. They represent seven of the most dangerous gangs in the state including the Bloods, Crips, MS-13 and Aryan Brotherhood. Altercations among gang members could land at the doorstep of any hospital in the area, workers were told.
“I was very happy to see that Englewood Hospital is educating their folks,” Sheriff McGuire said. “We’ll be looking to provide that same education to the other hospitals in Bergen County.”
Statewide there are more than 190 different gangs, not including different sects of gangs, said Detective Sgt. Ron Hampton of the State Police. The Bloods, for example, have more than 50 sects in New Jersey, he said. There are 10,000 to 25,000 gang members in the state, he said.
He added that there have not been any notable altercations at any New Jersey hospital involving a gang member.
The parole officers told hospital workers that a scenario they might encounter could be an injured gang member brought to an emergency room by an unruly entourage, said Mario Taboada, a senior parole officer for the state. Or members of rival gangs coming to a hospital, entourages in tow, after an altercation.
“We’re not looking for hospitals to become an arm of law enforcement, and a hospital is not going to turn away a gang member,” he said. “But if they can identify and separate personnel if need be, everybody goes away happy.”
The officers gave a slide presentation giving the history of around a dozen of New Jersey’s largest gangs including the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, MS-13, 18 Street, Dominicans Don’t Play, Netas, Five Percenters, Aryan Nations and outlaw motorcycle gangs. They also shared some of the visual signs, like tattoos, scars and burns, as well as behavior including hand signals and examples of slang often used by gang members. According to the presentation, Newark, for example, is often called “Brick City” by gang members; Jersey City, “Chilltown;” Paterson “P-town;” and East Orange, “Illtown.”
“You see people dress and act like this and never put two and two together,” said Christine Massey, a nurse educator at Englewood Hospital, who attended the presentation.
Richard Baroch, chief of security for Englewood Hospital, said that although he could not recall any possible gang members entering the hospital in the past seven years, he appreciated the presentation.
“Us in suburbia, we hear about it but don’t really think it’s going to happen to us,” he said. “But it’s on our doorstep, so we need to be ready in case it occurs.”