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(Reuters) - The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is taking steps to fire seven deputies for forming a secretive clique dubbed the "Jump Out Boys" who had similar tattoos and celebrated overly aggressive police tactics, a department spokesman said on Thursday.
An informant told the department the seven male officers in the elite gang enforcement team had "exhibited completely inappropriate behavior" during more than a year patrolling a crime-ridden area of Los Angeles County, according to spokesman Steve Whitmore.
If they are fired, the group termination would be one of the largest in department history. The seven were relieved of duty with pay earlier last year, said Whitmore.
No arrests have been made and there was no indication any crimes were committed, Whitmore said. The seven have the right to defend themselves at an upcoming departmental hearing.
Whitmore confirmed the group sported tattoos but declined to comment on reports they depicted a grimacing, bandanna-wrapped skull with glowing red eyes behind a bony hand that gripped a revolver.
Investigators believe the bandanna bore initials of the group's name and that members who fired their service weapons added smoke to the gun depicted on their tattoos, according to the Los Angeles Times.
One of the group's members, who waved off matching tattoos as common, said his group was not sinister and has a code of conduct pamphlet that promotes proactive policing, the Times reported.
"We are alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf," an excerpt from the pamphlet said.
Whitmore said the department was not opposed to regular tight-knit groups, but has sought to crack down on cliques whose members cross ethical lines.
"There are cliques that go to football games, that play cards, that go out on an evening - that's all fine. I am talking about groups that fight, that exhibit unruly behavior, or say certain things that fly in the face of our core values."
Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bob Burgdorfer