Gang Awareness
Gang Awareness

Learn how to recognize gang activity and prevent gang involvement among youth.
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Criminal Gang Types

The gang phenomenon is very complex and dynamic in nature. There are constant changes in gang culture making it difficult for law enforcement to classify gangs by demographics, colors, and gang symbols alone. Gangs vary in size of their membership, ethnic composition, organizational structure, alliances, and types of criminal intent.

The National Gang Intelligence Center classifies gangs into three basic types:

  1. Street Gangs which operate throughout most of the country at the local, regional, and national levels in urban, suburban, and rural communities.
  2. Prison Gangs which are highly structured criminal networks that operate within the federal and state prison systems, and are often networked with criminal street gangs outside the prison system.
  3. Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs which are highly structured, centralized organizations which operate at the local, regional and national levels.

Gangs are assessed based on their level of threat to both public safety and national security.

Other common categories used to classify gangs:

  • National Gangs – For example, the Los Angeles-based Bloods and Crips, and the Chicago-based Black Gangster Disciples and Latin Kings are some of the most widely recognized gangs in America, most likely due to media exposure. These groups have migrated throughout the country. There are literally hundreds of sets or individual gangs under the main names; however, although they may share the same name, they are not necessarily affiliated.
  • Traditional Gangs – These historically older gangs tend to have an age-graded structure of subgroups or cliques, produce organizational charts and explicit rules of conduct and regulations, including detailed punishments for breaking gang rules.
  • Nation Sets – These are alliances, such as People Nation, and Folk Nation, under which gangs are aligned. Alignments may vary for local jurisdictions due to competition for drug territory or violence against one another.
  • Non-Traditional Gang – These are occasionally referred to as neighborhood-based gangs or crews because they are unique to a local area. They have less structured organization and leadership than a traditional gang. They may adopt the same colors, signs, and symbols of a nationally known gang or may have their own unique identifiers. Sometimes, they refer to themselves as “a rap group” to avoid the stigma and law enforcement attention that traditional gangs attract. A non-traditional gang can evolve into a traditional gang.
  • Hybrid Gangs – Usually a local, “homegrown” street gang with very vague rules, loose organizational structure and leadership because they are often in a state of flux. Hybrid gangs may have multiple allegiances; they may use symbols and colors from larger traditional gangs, even rival gangs. Members may change their affiliations from one gang to another. It is not uncommon for a gang member to claim multiple gang affiliations, even with rival gangs. They are increasingly diverse in race/ethnicity, gender, and economic standing. An existing hybrid gang may change their name or suddenly merge with other gangs to form a new gang.
  • Extremist/Hate Groups – Membership is based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and government ideologies characterized by supremacist, subversive, and separatist belief structures. These groups are predominantly motivated by hate and bigotry, and prone to extreme violence.
  • Occult Groups – These are sometimes referred to as Stoners whose influences include heavy metal music and horror rap. Characteristics include gothic/vampire cult behaviors, satanic occult behaviors, or other socially unacceptable behaviors, heavy drug use, and a propensity to violence which distinguishes them from fan followers.

However gangs are classified, what is important to assess is the level of danger a gang poses to a given community. Examining what types of criminal and violent activities gang members are performing in the name of the their gang; where they are doing it; and what factors are contributing to members’ gang involvement are the most useful types of information when making informed decisions to implement targeted suppression, prevention, and intervention strategies.

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