The Problem Of Street Gang Activity Criminology Essay

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A study by the U.S National Youth Gang Center (2005) identified 21,500 street gangs throughout America in 2002, which made up of 731,500 gang members. This study showed that every city with a population of 150,000 or more reported the presence of active youth gangs. The same was held for 87 percent of cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000.

In the following year, the National Youth Gang Center (2006) report, estimated figures of active street gang membership up to 785,000. Followed by the most recent (NYGC) 2009 study, yearly estimates of the total number of youth gangs from 1996 to 2007 averaged around 26,000. The survey reported a yearly decline in the number of gangs from 1996 over 30,000 to a low 20,000 in 2003. But according to the survey, figures have been steadily rising in the recent years.

The most recent NYGC (2009) annual survey it estimates the period 2007 with over a figure of 25,000 gangs. The survey also indicates that the larger cities and suburb areas remain the primary locations of youth gangs accounting for over 60 percent nationwide. Smaller cities estimate one third of gangs and rural areas under 6 percent.

Source: National Youth Gang Center (2009). National Youth Gang Survey Analysis.

In the United States the level of gang activity has shown alarming rates over the past years. The problem of street gangs is found in all most all fifty states. In the late 1970's miller estimated that 83 percent of the largest cities had street gang problems as did 27 percent of cities with a population of 100,000 or more and 13 percent of cities with populations of 10,000 or more (W, Miller 1982, chaps. 2,3). Howell (2006), in an analysis of the National Youth Gang Surveys, reports that four of the 10 largest US cities reported an average of 10 gang related homicides in 2002-2003.

What is more worrying than the actual numbers of street gangs is the rate of their growth. Walter Miller (1982) conducted a national survey estimating 700 to 3000 street gangs in existence in the largest cities in the U.S. Howell, (1998) had stated estimates of more than 30,000 gangs with over 800,000 members.

The increasing number of gangs and memberships reported also reflected from the figures of the U.S cities that reported gang involvement. The figures reported 54 gangs in 1961 to 94 in 1970, 172 in 1980, and 766 in 1992; Klein, 1993), as well as the increasing rate of violence linked to gang activity. The National Youth Gang Center survey analysis (2009), estimated an annual total number of 775,000 gang members in the 12 year survey. As well as that, recent National Gang Assessment (2009) report also showed an increase of 36.5 percent in street and youth gang members since 2002. An increase in criminal gang activity was also reported by 58 percent of law enforcement agencies and a 13% rise since 2004.

Source: National Youth Gang Center (2009). National Youth Gang Survey Analysis.

Moreover a recent study by the National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2008, indicates that gang influence over drug trafficking in the United States is stable or increasing slightly. (NDTS) 2008 data shows that 58 percent of the state and local law enforcement agencies throughout America reported street gangs were active in drug trafficking in their areas. The data showed a 55 percent increase from 2006 and by 2007 it grew to 58 percent and this stayed stable since 2007. NDTS data also showed that the figures from drug trafficking by street gangs remained stable from 2006 (35%) to 2007 (36%) to 2008 (36%).

However these gang figures presented are estimates from the law enforcement agencies and as Petersen (2004) cautioned, these figures may be over or underestimated, as they are estimates. When referring to figures on street gangs and gang membership in the United States, it is very difficult to gather accurate figures for many reasons. Firstly gangs do not keep official records of their membership. Everyday, gangs are shaping in different sizes with members joining and leaving on a regular basis. Some people however may not have gang membership but do hang out with gang members, which raises the question, is that person a member? It is also important to note that when a police officer asks a gang member are you in a gang, chances are the answer would be no, as the individual would know police take known gang membership seriously. Some youths however may claim to have gang membership around other teens to seem tough and gangs could also fake membership figures to make their gang seem more powerful than others. So it is appropriate to say that police department's reports on gang statistics are not always reported accurately. Police fighting gang violence can be presented with exaggerated gang numbers to give departments motivation while some departments may deny having gang problems at all to appease the public. This for these very reasons the problem of street gangs could be more than estimated.

Generally it is assumed that young people belonging to gangs seem to be much more violent compared to youths who are not in gangs ( Klein, 1995). Youths who join gangs from minor criminal activity, move toward more violent criminal involvement (Elliott & Menard, 1993).

However, as there is little disbelief of the rapid growth of numbers of gangs and gang membership since the mid eighties, the relationship with increased violence is less certain. Some gangs can be linked with a tremendous amount of violence at a certain period of time. For example, in 1995, 790 gang homicides were reported in Los Angeles County with an estimate of 1,142 identified street gangs present (Block, 1995).

Yet, suburban gangs are linked with relatively little violent crime which is unclear, whether increases in homicide in youths are due to increased gang members, drug trafficking, weapons or a growth in youth violence nationwide ( Goldstein et. al., 1994: Klein, 1993). Such questions are unclear in this period of time but many current gang writers view street gang problem in America as large and growing.

Gang migration from urban areas has led to the recruitment of new, younger gang members in many suburban and rural communities. According to the most recent biennial School Crime Supplement to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey,2 the percentage of suburban students ages 12-18 who reported that gangs were present at school during the previous 6 months increased 17 percent from 2003 to 2005 after remaining stable from 2001 to 2003, and the percentage of rural students reporting likewise increased 33 percent from 2003 to 2005 after decreasing (8%) from 2001 to 2003. In comparison, percentages of both total students and urban students reporting gangs present at school increased steadily from 2001 to 2005 (20% and 24%, respectively). (See Figure 3.) Gang activity at schools is rising, in part, because gangs are using middle schools and high schools as venues for recruitment and drug distribution. Law enforcement agencies in several jurisdictions in eastern states report that gangs are directing teenage members who had dropped out of school to reenroll, primarily to recruit new members and sell drugs.