Gang activity is occurring all throughout the United States. There are multiple types of gangs throughout the United States and surprisingly gender does not affect membership. There are multiple types of gangs that vary in size and criminal activities. There are also risk factors and warning signs to look for if you suspect that someone you know is involved in a gang or interested in becoming involved in a gang. Many programs have been developed to help deter and prevent future gang violence. Even with prevention and deterrent programs in place one thing is for sure and that is that the presence of gangs in the United States is a problem that has not gone away.
Statistics are showing that the presence of gangs throughout the United States is increasing and the members are only becoming younger and younger as time goes by which makes the need for community programs even greater. The definition of a gang is a "self-formed group of youths with several identifiable characteristics, including a gang name and other recognizable symbols, a geographic territory, a leadership structure, a meeting pattern, and participation in illegal activities" (Gaines & Miller, 2009). In order to be considered a gang, the group must have at least three members (Gaines & Miller, 2009). Some characteristics of gangs include being recognized by a gang name along with recognizable symbols, a geographic territory known as a turf that the gang represents, a regular meeting pattern, and collective actions to carry out illegal activities (Bilchik, 1997). Probably the two most infamous gangs known to many Americans are those of the Bloods and Crips.
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While there is no doubt that the Bloods and the Crips are two of the most well-known gangs in the United States, many people do not realize that there are more gangs out there than just these two and that new gangs are forming nearly every couple months, some may even be as close as your backyard. In fact, there are approximately 21,500 gangs in the United States comprised of more than 731,000 members (Drugs and Gangs Fast Facts, 2005). Just because a state does not appear to have gang activity does not mean that there is not gang activity. Although many well-known gangs are centered in impoverished communities, these areas are certainly not the only areas where gangs are thriving. Police are aware of well-known gang territories in impoverished communities and because of this gangs are migrating to suburban and rural areas to evade the heavy police presence in their known territories. All Americans should be concerned about gangs, regardless of whether they think the city within which they live has a gang problem or not.
Every city in the United States that has a population of at least 250,000 people has gang activity whether they know it or not (Gang Facts and Statistics, 2009). "Gangs engage in an array of criminal activities including assault, burglary, drive-by shootings, extortion, homicide, identification fraud, money laundering, prostitution operations, robbery, sale of stolen property, and weapons trafficking" (Drugs and Gangs Fast Facts, 2005). The most common criminal activity committed by gangs and their members are drug offenses. Drug use and trafficking is causing more and more violent crime in today's society. Studies have shown that the juveniles involved in trafficking illegal drugs "were significantly more involved in more serious and violent crimes then non-gang adolescents" (Bilchik, 1999). I learned through an internship with the Court Designated Worker program in Kentucky by working with juveniles that gang members that traffic these illegal drugs tend to go to other states for their supply and use juvenile gang members to sell and distribute the supply in their local areas. Juveniles involved in these activities feel like they are needed when in fact they are just being used. Juveniles also do not realize how dangerous trafficking these illegal drugs can be. It is not unheard of that people are killed during drug transactions when a deal goes bad. A deal really does not even have to go bad in order for someone to get seriously hurt, if not, killed in the process. All it takes for a drug deal to get out of hand is for one person to not be in the right state of mind, which can be an effect of excessive drug use, or to have a person that is wanting to get their drugs for free. Another issue that adds to the violence of these drug deals is the use of firearms by gang members.
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Adding firearms to the dangers of drug dealing can make for a deadly situation fast. The fact that many of today's gang members carrying firearms are juveniles makes for an even deadlier situation. When a gang member feels disrespected he or she will not hesitate to take the initiative to put it to a stop, this is the mentality of gangs. The same situation occurs during drug transactions, if a gang member feels that he or she is being disrespected or the drug deal did not go as planned, that individual may end up paying the ultimate price, his or her life. Adding to the short fuse gang members have when it comes to what seems to be disrespect is that juveniles also lack the mental capacity to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Many juveniles believe that if they are arrested for partaking in illegal activities that they will not be charged as an adult because of their age. What most juveniles do not realize is that depending on the severity of the crime and the state that they reside within, they may very likely be tried in adult court. Every year, many innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire of rival gang members and end up being seriously injured or even killed because they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a sad story, but unfortunately it is seen on the news all too often. In some communities where the gang presence is well-established, many people are afraid to leave their homes. This is completely unacceptable for a community to live in this kind of fear. No one should live in a society where they are afraid to leave their homes at any point during the day. It is quite sad that this is what the world has come to. With all the negative press and hype regarding gangs, the question arises why would anyone want to join or become a part of a gang?
The most common reason for joining a gang is the sense of belonging received from being involved in such a "brotherhood". The reasons for females joining a gang are different than males. Some of the reasons females join gangs include boredom, loneliness, family problems, and emotional problems (Most Frequently Asked Questions about Gangs, n.d.). Females may also join a gang because their friends or boyfriends are members (Most Frequently Asked Questions about Gangs, n.d.). This is the classic example of juveniles not having an identity and following in the steps of others. Peer pressure to use drugs is one thing, but the peer pressure to join gangs is much worse. Many juveniles are harassed and bullied if they do not join a gang. Some may even fear retaliation from the gang if they do not join. The most common reason for females joining gangs is that they have been the victims of abuse within their own homes and find that joining a gang is the only way to avoid the abuse at home and outside of the home. Many of these abused females feel that by joining a gang they will have a support system in place that may stop future abuse due to possible retaliation from the gang (Most Frequently Asked Questions about Gangs, n.d.). Other reasons for both males and females joining a gang are for identity purposes, recognition, discipline, love, and money (Most Frequently Asked Questions about Gangs, n.d.). The process of joining a gang is not very complicated.
For juveniles that desire to join a gang, the first step is to impress the leaders of that gang. If the juvenile cannot impress the leader on his or her own, then they may be asked to complete an act before they may join (Howell, 2010). This initiation act could include beating someone up, completing a drug transaction, or even killing someone (Howell, 2010). If the leaders are impressed, the juvenile is then jumped-in, which includes being beaten by multiple gang members until the leader calls for it to end (Howell, 2010). Afterwards, the gang members hug one another to simulate the brotherhood now in place (Howell, 2010). Typically, these initiation beatings can last quite a while and sometimes even can end in hospitalization or death. For females who want to join gangs, there is a choice of being sexed-in or jumped-in (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). The choice of being sexed-in involves having sexual intercourse with multiple gang members which can be just as brutal as being jumped-in, this is also known as being gang raped (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Many females will choose to be jumped-in rather than being sexed-in because they feel as if they will have more respect by being jumped-in than they would being sexed-in (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Females that choose to be sexed-in are left with the reputation of being a sex toy to fellow gang members and may never be able to live down that position as long as they are an active member of the gang (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Before joining a gang, there are several risk factors for families and friends to be aware of.
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The most common ages that juveniles are at risk of becoming involved in gangs are between twelve and fourteen (Howell, 2010). Risk factors can be seen on many different levels including, individual, family, community, school and peers (Howell, 2010). Individual risk factors include antisocial behavior, aggression, violence, excessive alcohol and drug use, mental health problems, victimization, and negative life events (Howell, 2010). Family risk factors include financial stress, poverty, and weak family structure (Howell, 2010). Another strong risk factor is the presence of current gang members within the family (Howell, 2010). It should come as no surprise that those families that have active gang members within the core family structure can be seen as role models to the younger generation of the family. This younger generation may want to join the same gang that their brother, uncle, or father is or was involved in. The same situation occurs for females, if a female has grown up in a family that has gang members she is also at risk of joining a gang. Community risk factors include large amounts of criminal activity in the community, large numbers of neighborhood youth involved in criminal activity, and increased availability of drugs and firearms (Howell, 2010). School risk factors include a lack of attachment to school, poor school performance, lack of attachment to teachers, and a high rate of school sanctions (Howell, 2010). Peer risk factors include engaging with others who are delinquent, aggressive and antisocial, or may be gang members themselves (Howell, 2010). Not all juveniles that are exposed to these risk factors join gangs, risk factors only show an increased risk of joining a gang. Warning signs that a juvenile has joined a gang include the use of unusual hand signals to communicate, unexplained physical injuries, unexplained cash or goods, and unusual interest in one or two particular colors of clothing (Howell, 2010). There are striking differences in female versus male gang involvement.
In the United States there are at least 60,000 active female gang members (Gang Facts and Statistics, 2009). Approximately 30,000 of these female gang members are teenagers (Gang Facts and Statistics, 2009). "Most female gangs are either African American or Latina, although there are small but increasing numbers of Asian and white female gangs" (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). There are very few gangs that are composed of all women, it is estimated that this number is around 2% of all gangs in the United States (Gang Facts and Statistics, 2009). The lack of research regarding gangs that are composed of all female members makes it difficult to truly know the extent that females are joining gangs and the activities they are participating in. What is known is that only 60% of the gangs in the United States allow females to join as members (Gang Facts and Statistics, 2009). Not to say that female gangs should not be considered dangerous or violent, but research indicates that female gang members are less delinquent than male gang members and commit less violent crimes than male gang members (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Many of these females believe they are on the same level as the male members and should be treated with the same amount of respect, however, this is not usually the case. Not only are female gang members treated as sex objects within gangs but they are also taken advantage of due to their gender (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). It is well-known by gang members that law enforcement officers are not actively looking for the female gang members. As such, female gang members are often used as the mules of the gang because they are able to conceal weapons that male gang members could not without creating suspicion (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Female gang members are also able to partake in more illegal activities, such as drug dealing, without raising the suspicion of gang involvement (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). There are many females that involve themselves with gang members and partake in the same illegal activities. Sometimes these females even help gang members commit crimes thinking they are now a part of the gang, but they are not and are considered by the gang to just be groupies (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). No member of any gang is let into the gang without first going through the initiation process. Regardless of whether individuals are members of the gang or just groupies does not change the fact that gangs are out there and are committing some of the most violent crimes.
Gangs can be classified into one of three categories: street gangs, motorcycle gangs or prison gangs. The line between street gangs and prison gangs has become blurry due to the rate at which gang members are being arrested and incarcerated. Incarcerating members of street gangs allows for street gangs to develop a presence within the federal and state prison systems. To the average citizen, the most well-known gangs are those that are classified as street gangs. Street gangs come in all shapes and sizes and it does not seem to matter what your ethnicity is, there is a gang that is more than willing to accept new members. Street gangs have a negative impact on the communities that they reside within. Street gangs are involved in everything from black market firearm transactions, drug trafficking, burglary, violence including homicide, and car theft (McGloin, 2005). As stated earlier, there are more street gangs in the United States than just the Bloods and the Crips. The Bloods and the Crips are known to be African American gangs who represent their gangs by wearing the color red or blue, respectively. The Bloods and Crips are also known to be rival gangs with a heavy following in the state of California. California seems to have more gang activity than any other state, at least that is how it seems that the media likes to portray the gang activity in California. It makes me wonder if any other states have the same amount of gang activity per population as California, but it is just not televised as much. The list of street gangs is ever changing and every day a new street gang is forming and eventually is added to the list as law enforcement becomes aware of the new gang. One infamous Hispanic street gang is the MS-13.
The MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, reportedly has more than 10,000 members in the United States and nearly 20,000 in Latin America (Barco, 2007). The MS-13 has its roots in El Salvador and was originally created for the sole purpose of self-defense against rival Hispanic gangs (MS-13: Prison Gang Profile, n.d.). "Some corrections officials say that MS-13 markets the gang as a way to embrace Latin American heritage, encouraging youth to show pride towards their culture when it is really just a mask over the gang's real criminal objectives" (MS-13: Prison Gang Profile, n.d.). I think this is the case for a lot of gangs. What other reasons are there that each ethnicity has a specific gang that they would like to be involved with? The only thing that makes sense is that there is some sort of false understanding that by joining a gang you are showing pride in your ethnicity and culture. The criminal objectives of the MS-13 include drug smuggling and sales, human trafficking, assassinations, theft, and black market gun sales (World's Worst Gangs, n.d.). Many of the members of MS-13 can be easily identified by law enforcement by the way in which they cover themselves from head to toe in tattoos (MS-13: Prison Gang Profile, n.d.). The MS-13 gang can also be found within the federal and state prison systems (MS-13: Prison Gang Profile, n.d.). The 18th Street gang is another Hispanic gang that is well-known throughout the United States.
Law enforcement officers estimate that the 18th Street gang has more than 30,000 members and membership is continuing to increase at a rapid rate (Valdez, 2000). The 18th Street gang has some of the youngest members of any gangs in the United States with some as young as elementary school age and middle school age (Valdez, 2000). Although the 18th Street gang was composed of only Hispanic members at the time of its creation in the 1960's, many cliques and subsets now have members that are African American, Asian, Caucasian and Native American (Valdez, 2000). The 18th Street gang is one of very few gangs that travel outside the states and neighborhoods within which they reside to recruit new members (Valdez, 2000). By traveling out of their neighborhoods and state, it allows the 18th Street gang to acquire members that they otherwise would not have access to. It also allows the 18th Street gang to have a stronger multi-state presence than other gangs that stay within their neighborhoods and states. The 18th Street gang is also involved in drug smuggling and sales, human trafficking, assassinations, theft, and black market gun sales (Valdez, 2000). The main criminal activity that the 18th Street gang partakes in is national and international drug trafficking (Valdez, 2000). Unlike members of the MS-13, members of the 18th Street gang conceal their membership making it harder for law enforcement to identify gang affiliation (Valdez, 2000). Some members even go as far as having tattoos that resemble gang affiliation removed (Valdez, 2000). If gang members are looking to get away with illegal activities without having to worry about creating suspicion with local law enforcement, removing any identifying gang affiliation characteristics is important. The 18th Street gang obviously has realized that by having tattoos that show their gang affiliation, law enforcement is more apt to keep an eye on them. With law enforcement increasing efforts to prosecute illegal gang activity, the 18th Street gang has begun participating in other non-violent criminal activities, another way of keeping law enforcement officers attention off the gang members. These non-violent activities include creating fraudulent immigration documentation, credit cards, and even food stamps (Valdez, 2000). Another form of gang that is not as common as street gangs or prison gangs but still operating within the United States' borders are motorcycle gangs.
There are over 300 motorcycle gangs in the United States (Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, n.d.). The size of motorcycle gangs vary from just a handful of members to hundreds or even thousands of members (Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, n.d.). Motorcycle gangs are highly organized criminal rings that participate in violent crimes, and drug and weapon trafficking (Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, n.d.). One of the most dangerous motorcycle gangs operating in the United States is The Hells Angels.
The Hells Angels were founded in 1948 in the state of California (James, 2009). The true history of how The Hells Angels formed remains a mystery as members are reluctant to talk to others about the founding of the gang. The gang currently has a presence in nearly every state and at least 30 countries aside from the United States (James, 2009). The motorcycle of choice for this gang is Harley-Davidsons (James, 2009). The Hells Angels participate in many charity events for children and veterans throughout the communities within which they reside (James, 2009). One of these charity events includes the Toys for Tots program (James, 2009). I honestly believe that when a gang participates in charity events it is for one reason and one reason only, to cover up the illegal activities that the gang is involved in. By showing the community that your gang is participating in charity events it makes the community feel as if you are a respectable gang and that the community should not fear the presence of your gang. This feeling is exactly what the motorcycle gangs are looking for because it makes it easier for them to get away with criminal activity and take advantage of unsuspected community members. This goes right along with keeping the history of the gang a secret, because they do not want the community, especially law enforcement, to know what they are doing. This is a bold way to operate the gang because these gang members are actively involved in their communities while hiding their criminal agenda behind closed doors. Hells Angels members can be identified by the red-and-white winged death's head logo and the letters HAMC (James, 2009). These logos are usually on the back portions of leather or denim jackets (James, 2009). The rank of members can also be found on the individual member's jackets, however, many of the symbols that identify the ranking system are only known to members of the Hells Angels, so it means nothing to the community and law enforcement (James, 2009). Another motorcycle gang that presents a threat to local law enforcement is the Bandidos.
The Bandidos motorcycle gang has at least 2,500 members in the United States and more than 93 different chapters of the gang (Appendix B, 2008). The Bandidos motorcycle gang also has a presence in thirteen countries outside of the United States (Appendix B, 2008).The criminal activities that the Bandidos motorcycle gang participate in include drug trafficking and sales, especially cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine (Appendix B, 2008). The Bandidos motorcycle gang is present in Washington State, which is where I currently live. I had no idea Washington had a gang problem, more specifically a motorcycle gang presence. It is no surprise due to the illegal activity that gangs participate in, that gang members are frequently arrested and incarcerated in federal prisons.
When a gang member is arrested, the criminal activity does not stop. Unfortunately, many senior level gang members can go through their entire lives having the youngest and newest members complete the illegal activities on their behalf, meaning that the senior level gang members, otherwise known as old gangsters or O.G.'s, may never have to suffer the consequences of his or her actions. Many gang members are habitual offenders and will end up being in and out of prison multiple times throughout their lives. With the three-strikes-laws being implemented, a lifetime of being incarcerated may come sooner rather than later for these habitual offenders. Many of these gang members start their habitual offending at a very young age, and when they are brought to prison they are in fear for their lives and end up giving up names of other members in the gang, otherwise known as snitching (Nawojczyk, n.d.). Snitching is something that is not tolerated by any gang regardless of the circumstances. The gang mentality is that a member would rather die than give up any information that could lead to any of his or her fellow gang members getting arrested or murdered (Nawojczyk, n.d.). "While in prison, these youngsters become exposed to and indoctrinated into the world of real life gang bangers who are truly the hardest of the hardcore. Then, back to the streets these bangers go with more "knowledge" than ever could have been gained on the streets (Nawojczyk, n.d.). When they are in prison, many gain rank or "juice" within their gang because they went to the joint" (Nawojczyk, n.d.). When leaving prison many youth have the opportunity to make a decision. Either the juvenile feels empowered by his or her experience because they have more "juice" than other members of their gang or they decide to get out of their gang and start a new life (Nawojczyk, n.d.). For many, the first trip to prison is a wakeup call. Regardless of the choice they make when they go back to the streets, it does not change the fact that gangs are still in existence in today's prison systems.
Many gangs start out on the street and eventually end up in the prison systems due to members being arrested and incarcerated for a determinate period of time, sometimes indefinitely. Other prison gangs develop in the prison systems and remain in the prison systems throughout the United States, both federal and state. One gang that was formed within the prison system is the Aryan Brotherhood.
The Aryan Brotherhood was formed in 1967 in San Quentin State Prison in California (Aryan Brotherhood, 2006). The Aryan Brotherhood is a white-supremacist group that was created for the sole purpose of protection from African American and Hispanic gangs (Aryan Brotherhood, 2006). Members of the Aryan Brotherhood can be identified by law enforcement by tattoos of shamrocks or the letters AB on their bodies (Aryan Brotherhood, n.d.). In prison, any inmate that is not a member of the Aryan Brotherhood that has a tattoo that signifies membership of the Aryan Brotherhood is subject to be murdered for misrepresentation of the gang (Aryan Brotherhood, 2006). While many distinguish the Aryan Brotherhood for being a gang that is focused on white supremacy, that is not actually the case. The criminal objectives of the gang come before racial hatred (Aryan Brotherhood, 2006). The criminal objectives of the Aryan Brotherhood are murder, robbery, gambling, extortion, drug smuggling and sales (Montaldo, 2011). As the Aryan Brotherhood is a prison gang that is known as a white-supremacist group with only Caucasian members, the Black Guerrilla Family is a prison gang known for being composed of only African American members.
The Black Guerilla Family was founded in 1966 for the purpose of eradicating racism and maintaining dignity within the prison system (Black Guerrilla Family, n.d.). All members of the Black Guerilla Family must be African American and although membership appears to be small in number, the Black Guerilla Family has a very strict membership oath which requires a lifetime of loyalty to the gang (Black Guerrilla Family, n.d.). If that loyalty is broken, the punishment is death (Black Guerrilla Family, n.d.). Membership is granted only through nomination from existing members (Black Guerrilla Family, n.d.). Though the Black Guerilla Family may seem to be one of the quieter gangs, they actually have a very strong anti-government mentality which makes any one representing the government, including law enforcement officials, in danger of violence (Black Guerrilla Family, n.d.). Whether in the street or in prison, gang members are expected to show disrespect to rival gang members, regardless of the consequences, obviously the consequences are much steeper for retaliation in prison systems.
Every gang has a rival gang, whether the rival is due to territory, race, or general dislike for the other. If a fellow gang member is seen not showing disrespect to a rival gang member, the individual can be beaten up by fellow gang members as punishment (Nawojczyk, n.d.). Disrespect does not have to be verbal, it can also be issued by graffiti (Nawojczyk, n.d.). "Many gang members use graffiti as a way of posting challenges, warnings, and deeds that have been accomplished or are about to occur" (Nawojczyk, n.d.). After disrespect is issued there must be some sort of retaliation or revenge (Nawojczyk, n.d.). The gang mentality is that no challenge goes unanswered, even if the consequence is death. Retaliation can be in the form of drive-by shootings or other forms of violence, including murdering family members of the rival gang members (Nawojczyk, n.d.). If a rival gang member is challenged alone then that member will leave and come back with more members from his or her gang to answer the challenge (Nawojczyk, n.d.). From this example it is easy to see why gang violence never seems to decrease, with every challenge going unanswered it creates a constant battle between rival gangs. This is the classic example of the gangster lifestyle that most juveniles are unaware that they signed up for when they joined.
The media has portrayed gangs in a certain limelight that almost makes juveniles excited to be out running the streets with fellow gang members. There are a lot of movies that have been made and are currently being made that focus on gang lifestyle, but focus on parts that seem attractive to the younger generation. The History Channel is now airing a television show called Gangland which depicts gang life in more reality than other shows. Gangland even interviews current gang members for their advice and opinions regarding the gang lifestyle. The attractive aspects of joining a gang are the so called brotherhood and the money. Movies, rap artists, and television shows glamorize the gang lifestyle making it seem as if joining a gang is the only thing to do to protect yourself in certain communities. Many rap artists have these already vulnerable juveniles hearing about people killing each other for senseless reasons, thinking that there is nothing wrong with it or even rapping about what gangs they are in and the crimes they have committed or would like to commit against rival gang members. Many of these juveniles begin to idolize these rap artists and begin to mimic what is said in the lyrics. The media productions also contribute to a juvenile's choice in clothing because they will begin to gravitate towards one artist and copy that artist's style without knowing the true meaning behind the clothing they are wearing. What many juveniles do not realize is that joining a gang is not a temporary membership like you would find at your local gym.
There are many reasons members decide it is time to leave their gang behind and move on to more positive activities. For females, the main reason for leaving the gang is pregnancy (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Being involved in gang activities is very dangerous and when females become pregnant, the life of their unborn child needs to be considered as well as their own (Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Gang activities may also begin to lose their appeal after a member discovers there is life outside of the gang. Getting out of a gang can be one of the most challenging situations presented to gang members. In some gangs, if a member says they want out of the gang, they will be told to kill a close relative or will be killed themselves (Nawojczyk, n.d.). Many are familiar with the classic saying of blood in, blood out. Blood in refers to the being jumped-in while blood out refers to the death of the individual member that wanted to get out. There are other ways of getting out of a gang that do not involve being killed or having to kill someone else (Nawojczyk, n.d.). The key to getting out of a gang is to not tell anyone in the gang that you want to get out (Getting Out of Street Gangs, n.d.). The next steps include to "stop looking and acting like a gang member, cover up tattoos, change your phone number and do not answer if you know it is a gang member, change your friends, and you may need to move if the problem persists" (Getting Out of Street Gangs, n.d.). Now these steps may sound cowardly, but they can save your life. The best thing one can do in the middle of this life change is to stay busy.
Law enforcement has a unique challenge on their hands when it comes to combating street gangs. The reason combating street gangs is challenging is because each street gang is different. Each street gang has a different amount of members, different criminal activity patterns, and different identifiers. Just as the first step to an alcoholic being rehabilitated is to admit there is a problem, the first step to fixing a gang problem within a community is to realize that there is a gang problem. Prevention techniques will not work without the support of the community. Communities must be able to recognize gangs, pinpoint their whereabouts, and identify those that are members. With the help of the community, law enforcement programs can be beneficial for all.
Law enforcement programs to combat street gang activity can be classified as prevention, intervention, suppression, or comprehensive strategies (McGloin, 2005). Prevention strategies are just as they sound, strategies to prevent street gangs from forming and the violence that occurs therefrom (McGloin, 2005). Prevention strategies are focused on the general population that poses a risk of joining street gangs. One popular gang prevention program is Gang Resistance and Training, otherwise known as G.R.E.A.T.
G.R.E.A.T. is a school-based program and can be found in classes as early as elementary school (G.R.E.A.T., n.d.). The program is instructed by local law enforcement officers and focuses on providing life skills to juveniles. The life skills lessons provided by the G.R.E.A.T. program allow juveniles to find alternative ways of expressing themselves rather than joining gangs and engaging in delinquent behaviors (G.R.E.A.T., n.d.). Although prevention programs can help, sometimes the prevention program comes after it is too late.
If prevention programs are unsuccessful the next strategy is the intervention programs. Intervention programs focus on specific individuals that are current gang members (McGloin, 2005). Intervention programs help gang members to leave their gangs for a better life (McGloin, 2005). Intervention programs are critical for juvenile gang members as they provide the opportunity, resources, and skills to cope with getting out of a gang (McGloin, 2005). Probably one of the most common intervention programs that most do not even recognize as an intervention program is the Boys and Girls Club of America.
The Boys and Girls Club of America has specific programs that are dedicated to gang prevention and intervention (Howell, 2010). Juveniles within the program are either involved in gang activity or at risk of becoming involved in gang activity (Howell, 2010). Juveniles are referred to the Boys and Girls Club of America program through school officials, parents, probation officers, and parents (Howell, 2010). The program focuses on providing alternatives to the gang lifestyle and improving life-skills (Howell, 2010). The program also works with rival gangs to help establish a truce (Howell, 2010). By allowing rival gangs to form truces it can help create less gang violence in the community. Intervention programs work in similar ways with suppression programs.
Like intervention programs, suppression programs focus on working with current gang members to help put a stop to future gang involvement and criminal activity (Howell, 2010). Comprehensive programs combine intervention, prevention, and suppression strategies into one complete program (Howell, 2010). Comprehensive programs seem like they would have the most success when it comes to deterring gang involvement as they relate to more than one specific population of gang offenders. One popular comprehensive strategy is the Office of Juvenile Delinquency Prevention's Comprehensive Gang Model.
The Comprehensive Gang Model has five strategies including community mobilization, opportunities provision, social intervention, suppression, and organizational change and development (About the OJJDP, n.d.). The first step of community mobilization involves getting the community to come together as a whole, including gang members and their families, to coordinate programs and functions within the community (About the OJJDP, n.d.). The opportunities provision includes the development of educational, training, and employment programs to help gang members obtain life skills to better their chances of getting out of a gang and remaining out of the gang (About the OJJDP, n.d.). The third strategy is social intervention which includes programs at schools and within the community to re-establish the links between gang members, families, and community members (About the OJJDP, n.d.). The fourth step is suppression which includes the close supervision of gang members by the community and local law enforcement to monitor for any illegal activities and gang presence (About the OJJDP, n.d.). The fifth and final strategy is the organizational change and development (About the OJJDP, n.d.). This strategy involves developing and implementing policies and procedures that address the gang problem in the community and help to deter future gang activity (About the OJJDP, n.d.). No matter which program is in effect, the community plays an extremely important role in deterring gang activity.
Many juveniles resort to joining a gang due to the lack of positive role models in their lives and have been misguided into thinking that a gang will serve the purpose of providing role models. Volunteering for programs such as Big Brother, Big Sisters could help at least one juvenile avoid joining a gang. If community members are determined to prevent gangs from forming within their neighborhoods, they should look into local programs such as the YMCA, churches or check with probation officers to see what they can do to help. Programs like these are always looking for volunteers to be mentors to these misguided juveniles.
In conclusion, gangs are a problem throughout the United States. No state is immune to gang activity even if they think that their communities do not have a gang problem. Law enforcement and the media need to be more open with community members about the gang problems within the area. I was shocked while researching this paper to find that Washington State has a gang problem. Seattle, Washington was even referenced in our textbook under the gang section. I have lived her most of my life and had no idea that we have a strong gang presence, perhaps I am just unaware of the warning signs that the community is suffering from. Sure I have seen the occasional graffiti around neighborhoods, but I never thought to make the connection between graffiti and gang affiliation. We also have the occasional shooting at the mall or even in the downtown streets, but it is nothing like the stories you hear coming out of California or Chicago. The first state that comes to mind when I hear about gangs is California. I think the reason why California has so much publicity when it comes to gang activity is because the large population of people that reside there. With a larger population than many other states within the United States it is not an easy or fair comparison to gang activity in neighboring states. It seems no matter what law enforcement efforts or programs are put into place there is no deterrent effect on gangs as they are continuing to thrive. Street gangs can turn into prison gangs which end up running federal and state prison systems. It is inconceivable to think that prison gangs can issue orders within prison to have someone murdered on the outside and have the job be completed without law enforcement intercepting the order or being able to put a stop to it. While street and prison gangs like to make their presence known, motorcycle gangs participate in charity events to help conceal their gang activity while still participating in the illegal activities that come with being involved in a gang. I was also surprised to find that many motorcycle gangs have their own websites which detail their charity events and the marathon motorcycle rides that are participating in. Many of these websites have warnings indicating that if you post something in the guest book it will have to be approved before it actually shows up online. What this warning tells me is that there are people out there who have posted some things that may have gotten these gangs in trouble. Either way, I find it interesting that websites remain active when law enforcement and government officials know what these gangs have been doing and what they are capable of. No matter which gang an individual chooses to become a part of, whether it be a motorcycle gang, street gang or prison gang, there is usually an initiation process that must be gone through. The most common initiation process is being jumped-in or for females being sexed-in. For someone to willingly sign up to be beaten to a bloody pulp in order to get accepted into gang is absolutely ludicrous. I have never wanted something so badly in my life that I would willingly sign up to be beaten for it or even raped. The fact that these individuals are willing to be beaten or raped to become members shows that they have no positive role models in their life and clearly are in need of guidance. Thankfully, many programs have been put into place to help those at risk of becoming involved in gangs and even for those who already involved in gangs. If communities truly want to deter gangs from entering their backyards, they need to work with law enforcement to present a united front. By presenting a united front that shows that the community is not going to put up with gang activity, gangs will be forced to relocate elsewhere. I know this is not the best result, but honestly gangs are never going to just disappear. As long as we continue to allow gangs to be present within our prison systems they will continue to be present in our communities. Unfortunately, there is not enough funding or law enforcement officials to combat the gang problem in the United States, therefore, it is not a problem that will go away anytime soon. The only thing we can do to combat gang violence and is to support community efforts, our families and friends and to continue to prosecute offenders and get them off our streets.