It 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 is that?"

"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 in toast.

"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.

"INSANE 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 pond.

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 your back."
Other cops dropped hints while doing the paperwork after their arrests.

"What set you run with, man?" they'd ask the sullen gangbanger.
"You know what I am, man. I been arrested like twenty times before."
"You ain't Insane Fish, are you?"

"Insane Fish? Never heard of 'em."

"You will."

"You crazy, man. These Fish, what are they? A Black gang? White?"

"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 was that?

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 as concerned.

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 balloons."
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 about you?"

"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 District cops 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.

"The 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, LaCloche snickered.

"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!"

Vito nodded.

"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 weapon!"

Wade nodded judiciously.

"That'll work, Vito. Exactly what we need."

"Whatever you want, guys. How many you need? One bucket or two?"

"Two buckets, Vito. This is definitely a two bucket kinda guy."
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.

Copyright 2002 by Gina Gallo









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