Gangs are a community problem and need a community response. Knowing how gangs operate and how to identify them is one step in keeping our communities safe.
A gang is a group of individuals working together to commit crimes. It can range from large, formal structures or what we often think of when we hear "organized crime" to a loosely associated group of people who come together, commit unlawful acts and then break up.
Youth get involved with gangs typically in their early teens. They may progress from a "hanger-on" who associates with the gangs and commits some crimes to a hardcore member or even to a leader who directs the actions of others.
The more of these factors, the more likely a youth is to be involved in gangs. Of course, it is not inevitable no matter how many factors are present and the vast majority of youth are not involved in crime or gangs.
Low self esteem
Poverty / substandard housing
Substance abuse in the home
School dropout or truant
Friends or family members involved in gangs
Antisocial, hostile or aggressive behaviour
Social deprivation or isolation
Need for protection
Perceived lack of oppurtunity
Lack of positive role models
Unaware of the consequences of gang involvement
Periods of incarceration / institutionalization (Adult or youth facilities)
Reasons for Joining:
Reasons for joining a gang vary depending on the youth.
Protection: They may have a real or perceived need for protection from bullies. However, joining means working with a group of criminals who accept violence as a way of life and the need for protection can actually increase by joining the gang.
Material Gain: Gangs make money through drug trafficking, robberies, thefts, prostitution or extortion. Although it may bring some material gain, there is a high price to pay if convicted. Participating in a criminal organization can add years to any sentence.
Acceptance: Gangs provide a sense of family and belonging for some members. But gangs exist to make money and they rule in an atmosphere of fear and violence. Gang members are also frequent targets for other gangs and / or subject to brutal internal disputes, "discipline" and coercion.
Indentity: Some youth who have low self esteem may feel they will have power or an identity by joining a gang. The identity one often obtains is of a criminal or a victim of violent death. Even if gang members try to get out, they may find their criminal record keeps them from rejoining mainstream society.
Excitement: Some youth are attracted by the portrayal of gangs as glamorous rebels. However. This excitement can lead to prison terms, physical danger to themselves and harm to family or friends.
Signs of Gang Involvement:
Withdrawal from family or friends
Secretive about new friends
Abrupt change in personality
Unexplained new possessions or money
Preference for certain a colour of clothing (gang colours)
Graffiti on personal items such as notebooks or bedroom walls
Tattoos or markings of gang symbols on hands or body
Frequent run-ins with the law
Signs of Gang Presence in a Community:
Increase in crimes such as robberies, assaults, vandalism, graffiti and stolen autos
Senseless crimes of violence
Gang colours worn on the streets or in schools
Increase in fear in neighbourhoods
Drop in property value
Gang graffiti is made up of symbols and slogans and is used to communicate gang presence and to mark territory. Community members should not ignore the presence of such graffiti as it indicates acceptance of the gang. Photograph or record the markings and call police who track these things. Call the school if it is on school property. If it is on personal property such as a garage or store, the owner should remove it.
Everyone needs to be involved in this issue. Parents need to be involved in their children's lives, set limits and talk to their children about gangs, drugs, alcohol and sex. Don't tolerate alcohol or drug use by your children or their friends and teach children how to effectively deal with peer pressure.
Schools, community groups, churches, media and government agencies need to recognize potential gang activity and report it to police. They also need to provide positive role models for youth and provide them positive activities to be involved in away from the gangs on the streets.
It takes everyone deciding they will not tolerate gangs and will do what they can to get rid of them in order to have a positive impact on the community.