CHESAPEAKE -It's criminal behavior that's not talked about. Secret markings left on neighborhood curbs, fences, mailboxes.
In some parts of the U.S. and in Europe, it's how some criminals communicate with each other to burglarize homes. Some of the markings stand for wealthy, easy target and vulnerable female.
Those markings haven't appeared in Hampton Roads, but others have and you may not know what they mean. What looks like ordinary graffiti may actually be code that gangs use to talk to each other.
'Ganglifics. They write in signs and symbols,' says Detective Chadwick with the Chesapeake Police Department's Gang Suppression Unit. 'They're not going to come out and say 'Hi, I'm a criminal, come arrest me.' They play that game and we have to make sure that we're educated enough to recognize their game.'
Part of that education is learning gang language and how gangs use it to claim their territory.
One sign -- a backwards swastika -- is actually a symbol for the Folk Nation gang, according to Det. Chadwick. That symbol crossed out means a threat by a rival gang.
A 6-pointed star is a symbol for the Gangster Disciple gang. The numbers 7 and 4 spray painted with the star represent letters of the alphabet. 7 is the letter G because it's the 7th letter; 4 is the letter D. Put them together and they form Gangster Disciple.
'They're advertising for themselves and their organization,' notes Detective Chadwick. 'They're trying to put their names out there, who they are. They want others to know they're in that gang.'
The Gang Suppression Unit tries to work with neighborhood civic leagues so people can recognize any writing on the wall they see. It's one way to send the message that gangs are not wanted.
'There are four 'r's' we try to remember with graffiti. You read it, you report it, we record it and we remove it,' he said. 'We want to do those things swiftly because we want to get that advertisement for that gang out of that neighborhood.'
Chadwick says many gangs have come to Hampton Roads from across the country.
'Nobody wants to admit that they have gangs,' he added. 'No city wants to hear that, no neighborhood wants to hear that. But in dealing with the problem, you have to recognize there is a problem.'
Part of that recognition is decoding the secret language of gangs.