has nothing to do with seafood. And like most cop legends in Chicago,
everyone's got a different version of how it started. Some say
the Insane Fish was the brainchild of beat cops intent on screwing
over Internal Affairs. Others think it's a term coined by Marine
Unit members who wanted a cool name for their golf league T-shirts.
The rest of us are willing to acknowledge the 14th District tactical
unit as the original founding Fish.
In a city that has over two hundred gangs (numbers that grow daily),
the 14th District has more than its share. The Spanish Gangsters,
Insane Unknown and Children of Satan are just a few of the gangs
that provide equal-opportunity crime. While membership may vary
according to location or ethnicity, most gangs favor names that
pledge allegiance to Satan, hint at royalty and/or are a testimonial
for mental illness. As often as new factions spring up, the hardest
part is keeping score.
At the local cop watering hole one night, tac officers Trafford
and Danovich tried to figure it out.
"Went through my court log for last period," Danovich
noted. "Out of all the gang arrests, twenty of 'em were some
kind of devils or demons, nine were Kings, Counts or Lords, eighteen
were gangster something-or-others, and all the rest were insane.
Insane Unknown. Insane Cobras. Insane ViceLords. Like they're
poster boys for some asylum, fer Crissakes. How come it's cool
to say you're nuts?"
"I know what you mean," Trafford agreed. "Remember
those girls we stopped last week? Four thirteen-year olds who
called themselves a gang. 'Sisters of the Insane.' What the hell
"Probably what my sisters were called when we were growing
up." Danovich sipped his suds. "Only back then, anybody
called you a nut to your face got the shit kicked out of him."
"Amen to that," toasted Cypher, the cop on the next
stool. "The good old days, when things made sense."
"I lock up one more 'banger who belongs to some 'Insane'
set, I think I'll go nuts myself," Danovich continued.
"You're halfway there already. It'll be a short trip."
Winking, the bartender set down another round. "Don't think
any of you guys are wrapped too tight. Maybe
you're crazier than they are."
"Fuckin' A!" Trafford chortled. "And there's more
of us than them!"
"Fuckin' A!" Up and down the bar, glasses were raised
"They may be swimmin' in the pond," someone slurred.
"But it's OUR
pond, and we're the baddest mothers in it!"
"Hell, yes!" Danovich drained his glass. "Biggest
fish in the pond!"
"The Blue Fish!" someone yelled.
Fish!" shouted another. "Insane Fish rule!"
"Fuckin' A!" Danovich thumped the bar. "We're the
Insane Fish! Biggest and baddest in the pond."
It was a joke that got funnier with each beer, but the name stuck.
From that night forward, the tac officers of 14 were the Insane
Fish. They left memos to each other initialed 'I.F.' Developed
their own secret handshake and 'gang sign' in parody of the 'bangers
they locked up. Growled "Fish rule!" from the loudspeakers
of tac cars passing on the street. It was just a joke, something
to laugh about through the course of their watch. And like most
cop jokes, it spread throughout the department.
"Heard anything about a bad new gang setting up?" Trafford
inquired of his unit commander, affecting a serious tone. "Intelligence
we've gotten so far is that these guys are some major bad-asses.
Wanna take down the whole damn district." The commander hadn't
heard of the Insane Fish, but took it under advisement. And when
a raw haddock was found, rotting under the front seat of his personal
car, he considered it a sign. A blatant attempt by this new gang
to intimidate the police, he figured. And sent out a memo the
very next day, apprising the Gangs Unit of this latest development.
The people in Gangs thought he was one tuna short of a salad.
But the Insane Fish were hitting the streets in a big way. What
was the point of being a gang if you couldn't spread the word?
The 14th district tac guys decided it was time to stir up the
Cruising through the 'hood one night, Trafford and Danovich spotted
a couple Imperial Gangsters lounging on the corner "Yo, Homes,"
called Danovich. "Heard a new set's about to take over your
turf. Got the guns, got the finest bitches, gonna put you outta
business. Whatcha think about that?"
"I think you're nuts, man!" scowled one of the 'bangers.
"Bingo!" chuckled Danovich.
"Insane Fish!" Trafford told them. "Better watch
Other cops dropped hints while doing the paperwork after their
"What set you run with, man?" they'd ask the sullen
"You know what I am, man. I been arrested like twenty times
"You ain't Insane Fish, are you?"
"Insane Fish? Never heard of 'em."
"You crazy, man. These Fish, what are they? A Black gang?
"They're EVERY color, bro. A friggin' rainbow gang. The Fish
are some bad mothers and they're gonna take you down."
Within a week, the gangs of the 14th District were on full Fish
alert. Nobody was going to take them down, especially not some
newcomers with a wimpy name like Fish. What kind of gang name
News of the Fish spread citywide. Although our department has
approximately 13,000 members, word travels fast. Every cop out
there could relate to it. As the biggest fish in the pond, we
routinely swim in troubled waters. The Insane Fish were ready
to shake up the bottom feeders. Those of us who work the street
- either beat cars, tactical, or gang cops - anyone who wears
the badge was counted as a member. We thought it was a hoot.
In the Deuce, - the tough 2nd District and home of the brutal
Robert Taylor housing projects, street cops drew fish outlines
on the grimy windows of abandoned cars. Area gangs who discovered
the 'gang symbol' viewed it as the first step of a hostile take-over
and hastily scheduled a war council. Whoever these damn Fish were,
wherever they were, it was going to be a vicious battle.
After that, there was an outbreak. All around the city, random
acts of fishiness were being committed daily by this anonymous
new gang. And because the department brass, like the street gangs,
had no clue regarding the Fish's real identity, they were just
Memos started to fly through Department mail, all of them pertaining
to the vicious new gang. The Chief of Patrol demanded all available
intelligence on the Insane Fish. The Training Academy Director
questioned the Research and Development Unit as to whether Fish
information would be included in the next Gang Crimes Training
Seminars. One of the Assistant Deputy Superintendents thought
the Fish posed a hollow threat. Assuming that they were surly
vegetarians, he said, "How violent can they be if they don't
eat meat? Probably a bunch of wimps who eat quiche and toss water
Internal Affairs launched a covert investigation of the Fish phenomenon
following a frantic phone call from a north side district commander.
He'd found a huge, hideous carp's head propped on the seat of
his private office toilet, an act he might have considered just
an odd coincidence except for one thing. In the carp's mouth was
a cigar - his preferred brand - and scrawled on the seat, an ominous
message: "You shit with the fishes."
After twenty-two years on the job, the Commander recognized a
warning when he saw one. It meant only one thing - that the Insane
Fish had somehow infiltrated the Department. If they were able
to breach his inner sanctum, who knew where they'd strike next?
These maniacs had to be stopped.
Across the city, street cops were embracing their status as Insane
Fish. Some proud members even began to display their membership
in cryptic ways. Small fish outlines were found scribbled in the
corner of arrest reports. The daily stacks of citations sent to
Traffic Court now displayed phantom fish signs along with vehicle
description and license plate number. Fish tie tacks appeared
on uniform ties, fish T-shirts on tac and gang cops.
Noting the small fish outline on one officer's shirt, a watch
lieutenant told him, "I like to get in a little fishing myself
when I get the chance. Rainbow trout and bluegill, mostly. How
"I don't catch fish. I AM fish," replied the cop as
he headed for the tac office.
The lieutenant turned to the desk sergeant. "What the hell
did that mean? Is that guy another stress-disorder or what?"
"I think it's a religious thing," the sergeant shrugged.
"Y'know, like the loaves and the fishes Jesus passed out?
I seen a lot of those fish signs lately. Maybe these guys been
hanging out at the Chaplain's ministry."
On the city's southeast side, disgruntled drug dealers found fish
symbols spray-painted on the doors of their dope houses. They
were not amused. Those fishy bastards were moving closer, they
told each other. Time to take some offensive action. But it was
hard to take any action against an invisible enemy.
The Fish follies continued. And, as happens with most large gangs,
splinter factions began to form. After work one night, some 4th
had a few beers and a major epiphany. Although they'd always be
loyal Insane Fish, why not distinguish themselves from the rest?
It would be their own South side chapter. Glasses were raised
in unanimous approval. And two or three or six beers later, they
came up with their chapter name: the Smelts of Satan. Not to be
outdone, other districts followed with their own chapter names.
The 23rd District's Avenging Alewives, the Mo-fo Mackerels of
the 15th, and the Blowfish Blues from the 7th were some of the
more inspired titles, and the few remembered after the stewed
Fish sobered up. It didn't matter. It wasn't chapters or names
that was important, only the morale boost that the Insane Fish
provided. It made us a family again. Proud to be part of the team,
brothers and sisters who watch each others' backs. A concept they
taught us back at the Academy, one that sometimes fades with the
reality or the politics of the job.
Almost twenty-five years after it began, the Insane Fish concept
is still going strong. These days, new recruits are regaled with
Fish war stories from Day One at the Academy, where grinning instructors
demonstrate our 'secret gang sign.' It's about family, they tell
the recruit classes. Insane Fish are our Police family.
And what would a family be without the occasional prank - hijinks
usually aimed at the senior members? Or, in this case, those that
carry the most rank.
Like the Area Chief who arrived unexpectedly at the Twelfth District
one morning,and announced a roll-call inspection. One during which
he lumbered along the rows of assembled officers, nastily writing
up each one for minor infractions like unpolished shoes, an unofficial
pen in the official uniform pocket, or hair that curled over the
collar. All bullshit charges, the day watch agreed later. Boss's
busy work to justify his salary. A hostile display definitely
not in keeping with the brotherly Fish philosophy. Partnered together
on Beat 1212, Wade and LaCloche couldn't agree more.
Chief wrote up a few coppers, now they'll give him some more gold
braid for his friggin' uniform."
"Probably the only thing that makes him cream. Bet he had
to change his underwear afterward."
Spotting the Chief's immaculate new car gleaming in the district
lot, the two cops smirked. It was time to make a statement in
the name of Insane Fish everywhere.
They headed toward their beat, which included Fulton Market -
a bustling stretch of meat houses, fish markets, and the long
shipping docks for the finest food purveyors in the city.
Pulling up to the rear dock of the Seven Fathoms Fish Company,
"Nice car the chief had, doncha think?"
"A fucking gem," Wade agreed. And waved to the dock
manager who approached their car.
"How ya doin', Vito? Whatcha got that's good today?"
"Depends on who it's for," grinned the short mustached
man. He'd known these cops for ten years and recognized that look.
"A special friend," Wade replied. "So damn special
he wears gold braid up his ass."
"This friend of yours - he'd like something special, or deluxe?"
Vito pointed to a row of sealed waste buckets.
LaCloche frowned, considering. "Deluxe, I'd say. How 'bout
it, Wade? Wouldn't you say he's a deluxe kinda guy?"
"Fuckin' A. He's a deluxe motherfucker if I ever saw one!"
"Those first three buckets - mostly fish heads and guts.
Next two are old product - wasn't shipped on schedule and now
it's spoiled. But the next four...." Shaking his head, Vito
rolled his eyes. "That's the shipment from a truck that had
a blown refrigeration unit. Our loaders opened that truck, two
of 'em passed out from the stink. A smell bad enough to be a deadly
work, Vito. Exactly what we need."
"Whatever you want, guys. How many you need? One bucket or
"Two buckets, Vito. This is definitely a two bucket kinda
Heading back to the district parking lot, LaCloche shook his head.
"Two buckets is a LOT. One woulda been plenty."
"One for the front seat, one for the back. " Turning
smoothly into the alley, Wade drove around to the rear of the
lot . "We're making a statement, remember,"
Just ahead was the chief's car, shining like a precious jewel.
"Fuckin' A!" agreed LaCloche.
They reached for the buckets. Insane Fish rule.
2002 by Gina Gallo