Law enforcement biker gangs: Damaging officers' credibility? - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Law enforcement motorcycle gangs: Damaging officers' credibility?

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PRESCOTT, Ariz. -

8 months after a bar brawl involving a law enforcement motorcycle group in Prescott, prosecutors are still deciding if they'll file criminal charges against some of the members involved.

Experts say there are a growing number of law enforcement motorcycle groups. There is a handful in Arizona, but how are they different from the outlaw motorcycle gangs?

There can be a confusing -- even blurry -- line between the good guys and the bad.

You might not know it from the video, taken from a bar brawl on Whiskey Row last Christmas Eve, but this is no "outlaw motorcycle gang." This is the Iron Brotherhood, a biker group made up of current and former law enforcement officers -- deputies, police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

Witnesses say they were carrying their brass knuckles and knives, alongside their badges.

"Those kinds of incidents, those kinds of brawls, they're not the norm," says Kerrie Droban.

Criminal attorney and author Kerrie Droban has written three non-fiction books covering the largest biker gangs in the world. Groups like the Hells Angels and Bandidos, often referred to as the one-percenters.

"So they're involved in arms trafficking, drug trafficking, money laundering, gambling, sometimes murder," says Droban.

She says the missions of police motorcycle groups are a 180 from the outlaw gangs.

"What is distinct about them from motorcycle gangs is they are tongue and cheek, they call themselves 99% of law abiding citizens that are forming these motorcycle clubs, to promote a positive image to the general public."

But at first glance, it's not that easy to decipher the two. Take a look at the Iron Brotherhood website. Skull, cross and heavy metal music. It mentions nothing about charity work but touts that it's a male only club, bragging, "This club's colors are earned and not bought."

Remember this is the club made up of officers.

Compare that to the website of one of the most notorious motorcycle gangs, the Hells Angels. Instead of heart pounding heavy metal, softer country music.

The website insists it's a motorcycle club, not a gang, and unlike the law enforcement website, this one does say it raises money for charity.

Droban says it's especially hard to tell the good from the bad when they dress alike.

"The Iron Brotherhood will say the blue eyes represent the brothers in blue, we're a police club… the general public sees blue eyes, skull, iron, cross, man on a motorcycle. How is that going to be any different from the Hells Angel that they see riding, man on a motorcycle… so the general public isn't going to be able to differentiate the two they're not going to know that one is innocuous and one is involved in criminal activities so that's where it becomes confusing."

"They can't be wearing the trappings of an outlaw club and saying we're the good guys," says Droban. "Again for the general public that's a very blurred line."

Stan Thibaut is the president of the Blue Knights in Tucson, a non-profit motorcycle group made up of law enforcement officers.

He says to avoid confusion with the outlaw gangs, his group redesigned their patches. One center patch, no rockers.

"Didn't want to look like that and that's why we did it. We didn't want to have that kind of reputation. There are still some police agencies though and their gang investigators include us, the Blue Knights, within the 1 percenters and I don't know exactly why," says Thibaut.

Retired from the Tucson police department, Thibaut helped start the blue knight's Tucson chapter in 1991.

"For camaraderie, to ride motorcycles, to help people when we can and get involved in some charitable contributions and activities, so we're not looking to go out drinking, get in drunken brawls and to show we're the toughest guy on the corner."

Witnesses say members of the police biker group involved in the Prescott bar brawl were acting like an "outlaw motorcycle gang" throughout the night, flashing their police badges in a show of power.

Investigative reports say the officers even adopted biker gang monikers, with nicknames like Tarzan, Mongo, Guido and Topgun.

"The problem is they're identifying themselves with an established, very prominent very well-known one percenter motorcycle gang," says Droban.

One biker gang expert told me over the phone he's waiting for law enforcement agencies to put their foot down on these clubs.

We contacted half a dozen agencies around the state, including Phoenix police. All of them say they have rules related to off-duty conduct unbecoming of an officer, but they don't dictate what clubs officers can belong to.

"The critics of the biker clubs have alleged that it's really hurting the credibility of law enforcement officers."

"It reflects on every officer out there and then everybody says, oh see those guys you can't trust them and that's really not the way it is," says Thibaut.

A Department of Public Safety investigative report recommends charges against four of the Iron Brotherhood members involved in the Prescott brawl. Most have resigned or been fired from their respective agencies.

And the Whiskey Row chapter has since been removed from the Iron Brotherhood's website.

We also reached out to the Iron Brotherhood for comment but it did not return our calls or emails.

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