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NYPD uses social media to track gangs

Among certain Rockaway gang members, writing "knocked him off his surfboard" on Facebook has nothing to do with catching a wave and instead, according to investigators, is a way of alerting others in their crew that a rival has been shot.

The phrase "gorillas [are] taking over," means police are in the area and if somebody wants to "eat some chicken" that means a robbery is in the works.

Those phrases are among the coded remarks police are noticing in their social media offensive against street gangs announced Tuesday by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly at a conclave of international police chiefs in San Diego.

While investigators have had some success in attacking warring gangs like the Very Crispy Gangsters and the Rockstars in East New York, Brooklyn, the NYPD had no concrete plan to go after the loosely organized local crews who have plagued neighborhoods and decided to act, said Kelly.

"We'll focus those resources not on large, established gangs such as Bloods and Crips, but on the looser associations of younger men who identify themselves by the block they live on," Kelly told the conference.

Since the young gang members are Internet savvy in their warfare, the NYPD's juvenile justice section will serve as a clearing house for social media probes and has started a dictionary of gang catchwords and codes that pop up in postings. In some cases, gangs have been so brazen that they have posted surveillance photos of the homes of someone they wanted to assassinate, said Kelly. The result was some recent gang indictments.

"By capitalizing on the irresistible urge of these suspects to brag about their murderous exploits on Facebook, detectives used social media to draw a virtual map of criminal activity over the last three years," explained Kelly.

Under new police procedures, detectives can adopt aliases for their online work, provided they are registered with the department, and also use NYPD laptops with untraceable Internet cards, noted Kelly. Transit and Housing police will play key roles in the new gang initiative, he said.

With homicides in the city down 18 percent so far this year over 2011, Kelly said the new gang offensive will be able to drive killings and other violent crimes down even further. The city is on track to come in at around 400 homicides, a rate that would be among the lowest seen in the post-World War II period.

The theft of Apple electronic products, known in street slang as "apple picking," is also big with the gangs, Kelly noted.

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