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Survey Results

Number of youth gangs and gang members

Fom 1996 to 1998, the estimated number of youth gangs in the United States decreased by nearly 7 percent and the number of gang members decreased by nearly 8 percent.

Prior to the 1995 National Youth Gang Survey, the highest estimates of gang activity ranged from 8,600to 9,000 gangs and 375,000 to 400,000 gang members (Curry, Ball, and Decker, 1996a, b, c; Klein, 1995). As noted earlier, however, most surveys prior to 1995 were limited in size and scope. The 1995 National Youth Gang Survey indicated that approximately 23,000 gangs and 665,000 gang members were active in the United States in 1995. The 1996, 1997, and 1998 National Youth Gang Surveys, which used a statistically representative sample, produced estimates of 31,000 gangs and 846,000 gang members for 1996, 30,500 gangs and 816,000 gang members for 1997, and 28,700 gangs and 780,200 gang members for 1998 (table 9).

Table 9: Estimated Number of Youth Gangs and Gang Members, by Area Type, 1996, 1997, and 1998

Table 9 shows that from 1996 to 1998, the estimated number of youth gangs in the United States decreased by nearly 7 percent and the number of gang members decreased by nearly 8 percent. The largest drop in the number of gangs occurred in suburban counties (–24 percent), followed by rural counties (–13 percent). The largest drop in the number of gang members occurred in suburban counties (–21 percent), followed by large cities (–6 percent). Counter to the nationwide trend, the number of gang members increased 43 percent in rural counties and 3 percent in small cities.

The larger the population size, the greater the average number of gangs and gang members per jurisdiction.

In small cities, the number of youth gangs and gang members increased from 1996 to 1997 and decreased from 1997 to 1998. A mixed pattern was seen in rural counties, where the number of gangs decreased but the number of gang members increased in both 1997 and 1998. Table 10 shows the distribution of reported and estimated youth gangs and gang members in 1998, by area type. Comparing estimates for each area type with the national total estimate reveals that 44 percent of all gangs were in large cities, 29 percent in small cities, 21 percent in suburban counties, and 6 percent in rural counties. A similar comparison for gang members reveals a different pattern: nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of all gang members were in large cities, 12 percent in small cities, 23 percent in suburban counties, and 3 percent in rural counties. Whereas most gangs were in large cities, followed by small cities, most gang members were in large cities, followed by suburban counties. Small cities had a relatively larger percentage of gangs (29 percent of the total) than gang members (only 12 percent). Conversely, large cities had 62 percent of all gang members but only 44 percent of all gangs. Thus, compared with small cities, large cities had relatively fewer gangs but these gangs had more members.

Table 10: Reported and Estimated Number of Youth Gangs and Gang Members, by Area Type, 1998

Table 11 shows the average number of youth gangs and gang members per jurisdiction, by population size, in 1996, 1997, and 1998. This table illustrates the correlation between population size and both the number of gangs and the number of gang members: the larger the population size, the greater the average number of gangs and gang members per jurisdiction, for all 3 years. This table also shows that most of the nationwide decrease in the number of gangs and gang members per jurisdiction from 1996 to 1998 was accounted for by the steep drop in jurisdictions with populations between 100,000 and 249,999. Jurisdictions with populations of 250,000 or more had a sharp drop in the average number of gang members, but not in the average number of gangs, during this period. Jurisdictions with populations of less than 100,000 had no noticeable change in the average number of gangs or gang members per jurisdiction from 1996 to 1998.

Table 11: Average Number of Youth Gangs and Gang Members per Jurisdiction, by Population Size,1996, 1997, and 1998

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1998 Youth Gang Survey
OJJDP Summary
November 2000