Gang Definitions

What is a gang?
Street gangs can be described as a group of people who form an allegiance for a common purpose and engage in violent, unlawful or criminal activity. they often claim control over certain territory in the community.

How is a gang structured?
Leadership roles in street gangs are usually not formally recognized positions. They are assumed by a member who demonstrates dominant control at a given time. Gangs are usually comprised of males ranging from 13 to 28 years of age. Members represent all racial and ethnic groups and from all economic income levels.

Why do young people join gangs?
There are a variety of reasons, including the excitement of gang activity, peer pressure, attention, media interest, financial benefit and lack of realization of the hazards involved. In many cases, young people are not actively discouraged from gang involvement by their parents. Often, parents do not realize that their children are engaged in gang activity.

What do gangs do?
It is not practical to examine everything a gang does. But when a gang is involved, there is violence and criminal activity. Gang members seek confrontations with rivals. Sometimes the incident boils over in shopping malls, schools, entertainment or other public areas. While violence often makes headlines, it creates even more damage to families, local property and businesses. Vandalism often furthers the gangs reputation.

How are gangs identified?
Most gang members are proud of their gang and many times freely admit their membership. Many openly display tattoos and dress in a style identifying their gang. Their personal belongings are frequently covered with the gang's name. Many "shoot signs" or make gestures with their hands which identify their gang. Members often adopt nicknames when recruited into the gang that become their new identity or "moniker".

How do gangs dress?
In the past, gang members dressed in basic style or colors chosen by the gang. As pressure from police, school officials and parents increases, they change their outward appearance to become less noticeable. Today, many gangs wear professional sports team jackets, caps and shirts, so identifying them is more difficult. Law enforcement officials depend on criteria other than clothing to identify gang members.

Why is graffiti used?
Graffiti is the first sign of gang activity in a neighborhood and is the underground newspaper of gangs. Graffiti is used to mark territory, claim responsibility for violent acts and for individual gang members to show association and allegiance. Without question, graffiti is a problem. The property values of residential neighborhoods as well as industrial and commercial areas have been negatively influenced by this vandalism.

Addressing gang problems
It is imperative that agencies share information and collaborate in order to combat gang problems. Information from the public is also necessary to achieve our goals of developing a strategy that balances prevention, intervention and suppression.

Gang prevention
Prevention strategies will be designed to educate, inform and assist in recognizing the hazards involved with gang activity. As increased peer and financial pressure occur, today's youth are being forced to make adult decisions with adult consequences before they have the skills to make meaningful life choices.

Gang intervention
As soon as a youth exhibits any gang behavior, parents must take steps to prevent further association with gangs. Once warning signs become evident, immediate intervention and counseling become necessary to prevent further participation. Effective programs must be available regardless of income and social stature. The single most import step in intervention is prohibiting a youth's continued contact with negative influence.

Gang suppression
Suppression activity is an on-going process. Any success in prevention and intervention strategies will not diminish efforts to identify, arrest and prosecute gang members. Law enforcement agencies are developed a Parental Notification Letter to inform parents when youth have met criteria to be identified as a gang member. Extra attention will be given to maximize incarceration of gang members once convicted.

Public participation
Gangs attempt to instill fear. They intimidate rival gangs and citizens alike. Their power grows through fear and intimidation. Direct confrontation with violent gang members is best left to police and other law enforcement agencies. However, everyone has the responsibility to work toward a solution. Here are a few ways you can participate.

Attend police community relations and neighborhood meetings
These meetings provide information about neighborhood activities and offer ways to get involved to help improve your neighborhood. As we develop strategies and solutions to gang issues, it is even more important to continue the communication and education process. Contact your police or neighborhood organization for details.

Discuss gangs with your children
Many parents are unaware that their children are involved in gang activity. It is your role to help them understand the realities of a criminal record. They need to know the finality of death, which so often is the result of gang violence. Parents should encourage children to identify and report other youth who are pressuring them to use or deal drugs or participate in gang activity. Intimidation and fear can preoccupy and destroy a child's ability to concentrate on schooling and pursue a meaningful life.

Look for warning signs in your child
Parents should look for changes in their child's behavior. Truancy, declining grades, changes of friends, late hours, isolation from family activities, use of a new nickname, graffiti or tattoos, sagging pants or other new clothing styles are all indicators of possible gang association. If any of these signs are observed, do not ignore them.

Develop a neighborhood watch program
Neighborhoods that show no resistance to gang presence become targets for advanced criminal activity. The Neighborhood Watch program provides guidance to citizens desiring a more secure neighborhood. You will probably find others who share your concerns and are willing to address these issues together.

Encourage immediate graffiti removal
Because graffiti is the most visible sign of gang presence, it's imperative that graffiti be removed immediately. If you see gang graffiti on private property, encourage the owners to remove it immediately. Many neighborhoods will provide paint to cover graffiti.