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Gang Codes: The long and short of it

Looking for a way to decipher a gang code? Sometimes looking at the long and short words can provide the answer. Here is a document that demonstrates that method (Illustration #1). Examine this document as a “questioned document” and look at each line, word and symbol closely.


As we conduct this close examination, we find the following groups of four-symbols that contain identical symbols (Illustration #2). What is a four-letter word that begins and ends with the same letter? Well, words like “gang”, “bomb”, “that”, “kick” and “dead”. Take some time to come up with some other words of your own that meet these criteria.


As we continue our close examination, we also notice another set of four-symbol groups that appears to begin and end with the same symbol (Illustration #3). When I was deciphering this document, I called this collection of symbols the “lollipop set”. You will notice that the first and last symbol of the group shown in (Illustration #2) also appear in the “lollipop set” shown in (Illustration #3). Normally this symbol “overlap” is a good thing and you would begin a search for a word that fits the symbol pattern of (Illustration #2) which would look like: “X _ _ X” (where “X” is the same letter) and a word that fits the symbol of (Illustration #3) which would also look like: “X _ _ X” (where “X” is the same letter). If you can find those words, you have started to decipher some of the code symbols.


We have identified some short words that we can work with, so now let’s try to identify a long word. (Illustration #4) shows a nine-symbol word and note that the sixth symbol and the ninth (last) symbol are identical (shown with arrows). The goal here is to identify a nine letter word where the sixth and ninth letters are identical. Take a few minutes and try to find a word that fits this pattern.


The nine-letter word we are searching for is: “KNOWLEDGE”. See how the word matches the pattern of the sixth and ninth symbols being identical? Let’s return to the four-symbol words shown in (Illustration #2), working with the idea that those four symbols are the word “THAT” then the four-symbol “lollipop set” shown in (Illustration #3) is the word “TUST”. Since there is no word “TUST” I took another close look at the “lollipop set” (Illustration #5). The first and last symbols in the “lollipop set” are NOT IDENTICAL; they are different symbols!


Now that the “lollipop set” has a different symbol pattern, one that does not begin and end with the same symbol, and using the symbols that spell the words “KNOWLEDGE” and “THAT”, I was able to come up with the symbol template shown in (Illustration #6). You will notice that the symbols for letters “J”, “T”, “S” and “U” make up the “lollipop set”. The word that was first translated as the word “TUST” now translates into the word “JUST”.



The document after being translated and transcribed is shown in (Illustration #7) with the long word “KNOWLEDGE” and short words “THAT” and “JUST” highlighted.

One more observation to note, the writer was trying to be clever and used a symbol for the letter “W” that looks like an upside down “W” or the letter “M”. The writer confused himself and used the symbol for “W” instead of the symbol for “M” which is why he wrote “wy lingo” and “wy knowledge” instead of “my lingo” and “my knowledge.

Spelling errors, similar symbols and confusing symbols can make it much more difficult to decipher gang codes…and that’s the “long and short of it”!

GS KLIVANS is a gang consultant and lecturer. He retired with the rank of Captain from the Westchester County (NY) Department of Correction (Peace Officer). Captain KLIVANS is a former District Attorney Investigator (Police Officer). He served in the US Army Reserve for 30 years in Military Intelligence and CID (Federal Agent).

He is the author of the book “Gang Secret Codes: Deciphered”, available through Police and Fire Publishing, Santa Ana, CA

He can be contacted at:

GS KLIVANS is a gang consultant and lecturer specializing in gang codes.
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