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Survey Results
Youth Gangs and Crime

Use of firearms in assault crimes

Respondents were asked how often youth gang members used firearms in assault crimes. Nationwide, more than one-half (53 percent) of the respondents said gang members in their jurisdiction used firearms in assault crimes “often” or “sometimes.” Nearly one-third (31 percent) said gang members used firearms “rarely,” and only 16 percent said firearms were not used at all in conjunction with assaults.

Table 31 shows variations in youth gang firearm use in 1998, by area type. Firearms were used far more often in large cities and suburban counties than in small cities and rural counties. More than one-half (59 percent) of large-city respondents said that gang members used firearms in assault crimes often or sometimes, and 60 percent of suburban counties responded similarly. In contrast, only 27 percent of respondents in small cities and 34 percent in rural counties said that gang members used firearms in assault crimes often or sometimes.

Table 31: Jurisdictions Reporting Firearm Use by Youth Gang Members in Assault Crimes, by Area Type, 1998

As shown in table 32, there were regional differences in youth gang member use of firearms in assault crimes. The frequency of firearm use was much higher in the South and West than in the two other regions.

Table 32: Jurisdictions Reporting Firearm Use by Youth Gang Members in Assault Crimes, by Region, 1998

Combining firearm use data for area types and regions, table 33 shows that in large cities, gang member use of firearms in assault crimes was most prevalent in the South, followed closely by the West, with less frequent use reported in the Midwest and Northeast. About two-thirds of respondents in large cities in the South (67 percent) and West (63 percent) said gang members used firearms in assault crimes “often” or “sometimes,” compared with about one-half (52 percent) in the Midwest and 46 percent in the Northeast. The number of respondents in rural counties, suburban counties, and small cities was too small to permit valid comparisons.

Table 33: Jurisdictions Reporting Firearm Use by Youth Gang Members in Assault Crimes, by Area Type and Region, 1998

Drug gangs

Surprisingly, drug gangs were least prevalent in the West, where gang drug trafficking has historically been viewed as very prevalent.

In 1998, survey respondents were asked to estimate the percentage of youth gangs in their jurisdictions that were drug gangs (i.e., organized specifically for the purpose of trafficking in drugs). A total of 34 percent of all youth gangs nationwide were reported to be drug gangs. Nearly 100 jurisdictions (99) reported that all of their youth gangs were drug gangs. More than 300 jurisdictions (343) said that none of their youth gangs were drug gangs. Tables 34, 35, 36 show the estimated percentage of drug gangs by area type, population size, and region.

Surprisingly, drug gangs were most prevalent in rural counties, where 38 percent of all youth gangs were said to be drug gangs (see table 34). The next largest proportion of drug gangs was reported in large cities (35 percent), followed by suburban counties (31 percent). They were least prevalent in small cities (25 percent).

Table 34: Youth Drug Gangs, by Area Type, 1998

Table 35 shows that drug gangs were most common in areas with very small populations (less than 10,000), where 40 percent of all gangs were reported to be drug gangs. The proportion of drug gangs was 39 percent in jurisdictions with populations between 10,000 and 49,999 and 35 percent in areas with populations of 250,000 or more. They were least prevalent in cities of 50,000–99,999 population (25 percent). Among cities and counties with populations of less than 25,000, drug gangs were slightly more prevalent in the least populated areas (less than 10,000 population) but were also very prevalent in areas with populations of 10,000 to 24,999.

Table 35: Youth Drug Gangs, by Population Size, 1998

As table 36 shows, the regional distribution of drug gangs also was uneven. Surprisingly, drug gangs were least prevalent in the West (only 18 percent), where gang drug trafficking has historically been viewed as very prevalent (see Klein, 1995, for a critique of this image of west coast gangs). Drug gangs were far more prevalent in the Northeast (60 percent), followed by the Midwest (46 percent).

Table 36: Youth Drug Gangs, by Region, 1998

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1998 Youth Gang Survey
OJJDP Summary
November 2000