Chattanooga, Tennessee (WDEF) – While many Chattanooga residents endured several days of gang related shootings making headlines in the local paper and leading the evening news, most people probably had no clue that TBI agents were working behind the scenes to assist Chattanooga police track down suspects through a gang database.
While Chattanooga police investigate gang related shootings at the scene of the crime, 140 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agents gather inside what is called the Fusion Center where those agents work behind the scenes to help local police identify gang members through a gang database.
“Inside of TBI, it’s not brand new. We’ve had it for a couple of years and have been putting it together and growing it. The newness now is that we have different agencies that are able to come and look; not only input into it but also can look into it and utilize it,” said TBI Assistant Special Agent Louis Kuykendall.
Unlike the TBI sex offender registry or TBI animal abuse registry which is open to the public, the gang database is off limits to anyone without a security clearance; even certain police officers who are granted access have to be thoroughly vetted by state authorities.
Being placed into the gang database starts with an arrest. Then an officer will fill out a gang verification form while questioning the suspect.
“That verification form will have a number of aspects that you will ask that person. First thing you will ask is hey, are you a gang member? A lot of gang members say yes. I’m part of this and that,” Kuykendall said.
Gang sign tattoos and gang pictures posted on social media are other criteria for gang verification.
“If you get enough points built up across this system of questions that are asked, then they can be noted as a verified gang member,” Kuykendall said.
All that information collected is then entered into the gang database. The same criteria is also used to verify people who are gang affiliated or have ties to gangs but not necessarily a full-fledged member.
According to Kuykendall, the gang database helped a TBI agent assist Chattanooga police following a gang related shooting last week. The information from that database led to charges being filed against a suspect.