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Special Feature: Gangs

gang members

Once found primarily in large cities, violent street gangs now affect public safety in communities of all sizes in rural, suburban, and urban areas. No region of the United States is untouched by gang activity.

Gangs are defined in many ways, but most definitions have similar components. A common definition of a gang is a group of three or more individuals who engage in criminal activity and identify themselves with a common name or sign. Gang, youth gang, and street gang are terms widely used, and often interchangeably, in mainstream coverage.

According to law enforcement reports and self-reported data, gang members commit a higher percentage of crime than non-gang members. In many communities, more than three-quarters of crimes are committed by gang members.

The youth gang problem has remained persistent over the past decade with the consequences of youth gang membership extending beyond the risk of crime and violence.

Gang-involved youth are more likely to engage in substance abuse and high-risk behavior which leads to a wide range of potentially long-term health and social consequences. Youth who join a gang are more likely to drop out of school, experience teen parenthood, and face problems with family members or unstable employment. These youth also develop an increased propensity for violence and, in turn, are more likely to be victims of violence.

According to the 2012 National Youth Gang Survey, there were an estimated 850,000 gang members in the 3,100 jurisdictions around the country that reported gang problems.

Agencies use a variety of strategies to combat gang-related crime, including prevention, intervention, and suppression tactics. While law enforcement plays a critical role in addressing gang problems, it is important to understand that law enforcement alone will never stem the flow of youth gang involvement. A community simply cannot arrest its way out of serious, violent, and entrenched youth gang problems.

Collaboration between law enforcement, citizens, and community organizations is critical to implement strategies that address both the immediate threat of youth gangs and the conditions that allow them to exist.

Gangs affect society on all levels, causing heightened fears for safety and violence. Today, gangs are more sophisticated and flagrant in their use of violence and intimidation tactics than ever before. As they move across the country, gangs bring with them drugs, weapons, and criminal activity.

To learn more, select a page from the "Gangs" box for information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal agencies.

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