Gang Growth and Migration Studies

Chapter 1 – Overview

Gang Growth and Migration Studies

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Now we will examine the problems and issues of not having a nationally accepted definition for a street gang. We will also examine mechanisms that influence gang migration and growth. After reading this section you will also understand that there are sub-populations within the general gang population.

Two of the most frequently asked questions about the gang sub-culture are: Why do gangs grow? Why do gangs migrate? Some law enforcement officials, politicians, educators and parents might suggest and believe that youth in their city are only “imitating” tougher L.A. street gangs or that the gang problem in their jurisdiction is result of migrating gang members from Los Angeles or Chicago. You will hear the terms “wanna be” or “street comer groups” or “misguided youth” used to describe the groups and you can be given a number of reasons why the groups in these areas are not gangs. You might also hear comments suggesting that gang imitation and migration are the reasons why street gangs have now been reported in all 50 states.

Gang Definition

There is another issue here that has to be addressed before the questions can be asked. It is accepting a standard to measure gang growth and migration. That standard is the definition of a street gang. Developing and then using a nationally accepted definition for a street gang becomes the fundamental basis to build examination of growth and migration. Having a standard definition becomes the fundamental building block to answer the two questions.

Studying gang growth is a little more complicated than just surveying cities for data. Without a standard gang definition to identify a gang, any official findings could be biased and misleading. Any responding jurisdiction could potentially use a different definition to identify the gangs in their area. Often, law enforcers, the public, educators and politicians use a penal code gang based definitions of a criminal street gang as a general working definition for a street gang. If the gang does fit within this legal definition used for penalty enhancement only, then the group is not reported as a gang according to this philosophy. The jurisdiction has no gangs. You can clearly see the issue here.

This will certainly lead to under reporting the number and types of street gangs present. Using a legal based definition of a street gang is appropriate from a prosecutor’s point of view. Unfortunately, too many communities, politicians, educators, parents and law enforcement officials use this philosophy. This way of thinking will only reinforce denial and delay the identification and treatment of the gang-community issue.

Many states now have gang enhancement laws similar to California Penal Code Section 186.22. In California this law is commonly known as the STEP Act. It outlines a legal definition for a violent criminal street gang. That definition is used to qualify a defendant(s) for sentencing


Gang Growth and Migration Studies

enhancement, after being convicted for any number of specific crimes listed in the legal text. The crimes that qualify are felony grade and are commonly committed by street gang members.

The California code defines a criminal street gang as:

Any on-going organization, association or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities, the commission ofone or more ofthe criminal acts enumerated…

The enumerated section refers to a long list of serious crimes ranging from murder and carjacking to money laundering and extortion. If a gang member is convicted of an alleged crime, and the crime is proven to benefit the gang, the enhancement will be applied when sentenced by the court. In 2006, the California legislature added ID theft and a few other fraud type crimes to the list. Enhancements like PC 186.22 are used as a deterrent to gang violence. If you get convicted of a gang related crime that fits the legal definition you can be sentenced to a longer term in jail.

All gangs have the willingness, readiness and capability to use violence. But, much of the street gang life entails delinquent-type behavior and misdemeanor law violations. Often, the community over looks this behavior and they will become alarmed until a serious violent crime occurs. Many people, including law enforcement officials, politicians and parents believe that a group has to be involved in a drive-by shooting or murder for the group to be called a gang. And when this happens, the behavior is referred to as an “isolated incident” or a “spike in activity.” This way it is easier to say, “We do not have a gang problem.”

Not all gang activity qualifies for prosecution under STEP Act type laws. Therefore, a Step Act type or legal definition of a street gang should not be used to define a gang or its activity. In fact, many street gangs do not fit this very special legal definition. As I suggested earlier, we need to use a simple more direct approach. A good working definition for a street gang is:

1. Three or more individuals

2. in association

3. with a common identifier (like a name, graffiti, hand sign)

4. committing crime (infractions, misdemeanors, felony)

All gang members have the potential to commit violent acts. Some of the more violent gangs commit and tend to have a history of continual involvement in felony conduct. In fact, many gang members commit delinquent acts and misdemeanor crimes to benefit themselves and/or their gang. What I am suggesting is that a gang is a gang, not a street comer group or misguided youth. In other words, a group does not have to meet a legal enhancement standard based on a penal code law to qualify as a gang.

Still, there is no nationally accepted definition of a gang, even between law enforcement agencies. Some other definitions claim turf is an essential component. Others have self-admission as a critical factor and another one requires that the group must commit major felony level crimes before it should be considered as a gang. State by state, there are literally dozens of definitions. The academic professionals and social scientists tend to use an academic based definition. Many schools use an administrative based definition. Even the U.S. military has developed their definition of what a street gang is. Sometimes, the definition of a gang can literally change city-by-city and county-by-county.

With so many definitions, it becomes virtually impossible to accurately determine how many gang members and street gangs exist in America. They are not measured in the same way. Without accurate data, there is also no way to monitor the growth and activity of street gangs. More importantly without accurate data, it becomes difficult to use and place valuable resources.


Chapter 1 – Overview

To complicate this issue a little more. Consider that it is possible for a gang’s criminal activity to be dormant for a while. It will appear as if the gang has gone away or it is no longer involved in crime. Then, there is a sudden spurt of reported criminal activity. As conflicts arise and develop gang members will take part in retaliatory actions until the problem is settled. Gangs that were dormant can become active again. The cause of the sudden activity can be just about anything from bad drug deals, insults to a stolen girl friend. Just because there has not been a law enforcement response to the neighborhood does not mean the gang has disbanded, it has just been inactive.

Commonly, gangs tend to retaliate as the opportunity presents itself. The majority of gang crime appears to be opportunistic in nature. Most violent acts between gangs also appear to the result of a chance encounter. Today, since so many gang members are armed, especially when traveling outside their home base, violent confrontation should be anticipated. But there have been cases where a gang will wait for a year or more before retaliating and where they have planned an attack.

No wonder it is so difficult to get an accurate picture of what is going on. This is why a standard definition needs to be used. It will provide a vehicle for us to get an accurate pulse on the number of gang members and street gangs in the country. It will also become the basis to track this data. And it will help to distribute the appropriate resources to minimize the impact of gangs in our communities.


The information that helps explain the national situation is limited. Let’s take a look at some data collected by the U.S. Department of Justice. A 1997, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) report was based on information collected in a 1995 survey of police and sheriff departments. When the data was analyzed, some surprising findings were reported on the number and size of U.S. street gangs.

According to the National Youth Gang Center gangs are not reported in all 50 states. Trend wise, there was a large increase in the number of identified and reported gangs in the mid to late 1990s. The number of gangs being reported actually decreased staring 1999 and remained that way until 2004. Beginning in 2005 the number of gang being reported in the country again started to increase. The same trend could be seen with the actual number ofgang members being reported. This is all based on law enforcement data (IIR, 2009)

What causes findings like this to be reported? During the 1995 survey, the country as a whole was becoming aware of the street gang phenomenon. One factor was the reported growth in the number of street gangs in the country. Malcolm Klein, a well-known University of Southern California sociologist, confirmed the growth of street gangs, by studying the number of cities across the country that reported the presence of street gangs.

Amazingly, Klein’s studies revealed only 58 cities across the country reporting street gang activity in 1960. That number grew to 101 cities in 1970. In 1980, 179 cities across the country reported gang activity. Not surprising, most of the reported gangs were on the west coast in California. By 1992, 769 cities reported the presence of street gangs (Klein, 1995). By late 1998, street gangs were reported in all 50 states, with over 1200 cities reporting the presence of street gangs. There is abundant evidence of the growth of street gangs.

One Percent Rule


As the number of street gangs increased, the nation also experienced a growth in the number of gang members. Basically, the gang population exploded during this time. In early 1980 there was thought to be only about 300,000 gang members in the United States. At that time, California alone reported almost 150,000 gang members in the state. Because of denial, inaccurate reporting and non-reporting, there is no accurate estimate for the country’s gang population. Many of my peers and I suspect there were more gang members than reported.


Gang Growth and Migration Studies

Other reports from government agencies estimate the national gang population between

650.000 and 850,000 members (National Drug Intelligence Center and U.S. Department of Justice). The number of different gangs also varies depending on what study is used. The estimates vary between 25,000 and 35,000 gangs. In April, 2008 the U.S. department of Justice submitted a report that suggested there were 1 million gang members in the country (US DOJ, 2008). It is logical to see how the findings are dependent on the survey responses. The responses become the critical variable in determining an accurate picture. With a tendency to under report or not report gang activity, it is easy to see how official findings may be inaccurate.

The findings of informal studies I conducted in several cities in California, Washington, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia suggest a different outcome. I used the definition of a street gang mentioned in this text and spoke with gang investigators. I believe a more accurate estimation of the U.S. gang population comes from what I call the “one percent rule.” This theory states that gang populations will run about one percent or less ofthe general population. The ad hoc studies conducted suggest this, whether a single city or an entire county is examined. The findings suggest that the total gang population accounts for less than one percent of the general population. They tend to be between .6 and .7 percent.

There were a few exceptions. In locations where gangs originally developed, a slightly higher percentage was calculated. In these cities the data suggested that gang populations on average ran between .7 and .9 percent, but not greater than 1.1 percent based on 2004 data. The data from ICE deportations also suggests that illegal immigrant gang populations run about 1 percent of the total deported population (Valdez, 2009). The U.S. military also suggests that active duty military personnel who are involved in gangs runs around 1 percent or less of the entire active duty population (Smith, 2008).

For example, in 2005 the general Los Angeles County population was estimated at 9.935 million people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Los Angeles is also considered to be the birthplace of Flispanic gangs. In March 2006, the Cal-Gang intelligence system reported an estimated

89.000 street gang members in the county. The one percent theory predicts that .89 percent of the L.A. population were gang members. The same analysis in Orange and San Diego counties (California) suggested a .85 percent gang population. In other cities that I have been able to get statistical data on gang populations, gang populations are well under one percent.

Reported gang populations change for many reasons. Anecdotal law enforcement evidence from 1993-2006 tends to support that theory. The latest data from Los Angeles County suggests that the gang population is less than 1 percent of the general population that is a change from 1998. This is a great example of the value of using a standard definition for a gang member and street gang. You can track, compare and develop a history of the number of gang members, types of street gangs and gang related activity accurately.

Based on these ad hoc studies and using this theory let’s examine the U.S. population. The last census (2000) estimated the national population close to 285 million people. The one percent theory suggests that the U.S. gang population should be closer to 2 million. This is more than double the highest Department of Justice estimate. If this is true the gang problem is more severe than we want to believe or previously thought. Under estimation ofgang populations and activity can hinder or prevent the implementation of suppression, intervention and prevention programs. The inaccurate data can cause a false sense of security to develop.

If you also take into account the fact that the U.S. population reached a benchmark size in October, 2006 the gang populations could be higher. By October, 2006 there were over 300 million people living in the country. This would predict that the gang population should be closer to 2.5 million, triple the highest academic based estimate.

Age and Activity

In California the number of street gang members was estimated at 300,000 (California Department of Justice, 2003. If that estimate is accurate, in that state, gang members outnumber


Chapter 1 – Overview

the police three to one. Nationally, the majority of street gang members are adults. Juvenile gang members only comprise 20-25 % ofthe total street gang population. What gang population is the most criminally active? Media reports help suggest that the juvenile population is the most active. Other surveys suggest the adult gang population is the most active. In reality, it is neither population. It is both.

We should look at the 14-24 year-old age group. The crime rates within this age group have been very dynamic and continue to rise. In fact, the homicide rate in this age group was estimated to be five times higher than just the adult or juvenile age group. This suggests that this combination age group might become a key in developing models about street gangs.

Ad hoc studies suggest that the 14-24 year-old age group becomes a critical factor when studying street gangs. By examining this age group, I have found that it contains approximately 65-70% of the total street gang population. Like the one percent theory, there are a few exceptions. In a few areas of the country the percentage may be a bit lower.

Knowing that the majority of street gang members fall into this combination age group, examining this age group will help give a clearer picture of street gang activity. One issue becomes to try to establish the size ofthis group. Again, not using a standard definition will lead to a biases finding. This issue becomes a little more complicated because of the non-and under reporting of gang activity, number of gangs and number of gang members. However, the U.S. Department of Justice predicted that by 2006 the overall 14-24 age population will reach 30 million. It did by November of that year. That is the largest this population has ever been.

In those areas of the country where street gangs originated, the 14-24 year -old age group represents about 50-55 percent of the population. This may occur in these areas because the gang population is a lot older and more established verses locations where the gangs were recently established. You should recognize that gang membership spans a complete age spectrum. For example, using December 1998 Cal-Gang data for Orange County, California, the youngest gang member reported was an 8-year-old Hispanic male and the oldest was a 59 year old Hispanic female. Shockingly, across the country children as young as 7 years old have been reported to be gang members.

In rural parts of America, the 14-24 year-old-age group may comprise the entire gang population. This may be true especially if the gang is newly established. This tends to occur in smaller towns and rural America because of the demographics of the youth population. In these adolescent gangs, there are no old timers, age wise around. The gang itself has not been around long enough to have older gang members. The gang members who refer to themselves as OG’s or veteranos (veterans) may be in their early teens. Today, gang membership covers a complete age spectrum and shows no gender or racial boundaries.

However, for the greatest potential impact of any strategy this is the age group that should be targeted for suppression, intervention and prevention programs. This is the age group were the greatest dollar return can be realized. This issue may also be true for street gangs that develop outside America, especially in under developed countries where poverty and unemployment is high.


It has been suggested that California based gangs migrated to other parts of the country and then started new gangs or sets of their own gang. This may have been concluded partly because gangs in other parts of the country displayed many characteristics and behaviors that were consistently encountered with L.A. based street gangs. The challenge becomes to identify what mechanisms and/or societal factors really accounted for this national gang growth; and to determine whether or not a gang brand name was adopted.

Klein’s population studies in the early 1990s also suggested that most gangs were home grown. Believe it or not, most street gangs are a function of local geography and demographics.


Gang Growth and Migration Studies

During the late 1980s and early 1990s law enforcement did not report many Los Angeles or Chicago based gangs in new areas. There were a few cases, but nothing indicative of a developing national trend. Prior to and during the period when Klein conducted his studies, there was little if any documented street gang movement between states.

But don t forget, it is during this time period the gangster rap music industry was developing, movies started to have gang themes, the media was making the public aware of increasing gang violence, there were numerous newspaper and magazine articles about street gangs and the use of the Internet was increasing. Society was changing and still continues to. What these communication medias did was help export the gang culture to other states and worldwide. By the mid to late 1990s it was apparent that the gang culture had literally saturated the country and was entering mainstream society.

Consistent with Klein’s studies, many law enforcement officials, including myself also concluded that migrating gang members had a minimal influence on the formation of street gangs outside California between the early 1990s. But one thing was noted by law enforcement. When the occasional move did happen, transplanted gang member(s) had a profound effect on the local community where they resettled. Law enforcement observed that when the move happened, other street gangs had a tendency to form.

However, this may not be the case now. Since the mid 1990s west coast and Chicago based gangs have been reported in many states. Currently, it appears that gang migration is on the rise and having a greater impact than before. Some of the newly arrived gangs tend to be a bit more organized than their parent groups.

Something also happens after the arrival of a west coast or Chicago based gang member. That transplanted gang member assumes an immediate degree of street stature simply because he or she is from California or Chicago. In the gang culture, there is an automatic street status given to any gang member who claims to hail from California, especially southern California or Chicago.

Gang migration can also be intra and interstate. Gangs can move from city to city within a state and from state to state for a variety of reasons. The intrastate migration of gang members can account for the presence ofnew sets or cliques of a particular gang in new areas of the state. For example, a gang that is known to be active in one particular state may now be active in another state. A question still exists, what mechanisms account for these migrations?


In addition, the constant influx of new immigrants adds to the gang equation. Some gangs specifically recruit from these populations or form new gangs themselves. 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha are good examples ofthis. When a new Latino based gang forms, it will often use a west coast gang name. There may even be a southern California based street gang with the same name. Many times there is no direct or formal connection to the California based street gang. But, there is an assumption made by mid-west and east coast based gangs. If you claim membership to a gang that appears to be a southern California gang, all of the members have to be from California. This gives members of the gang instant recognition.

This also occurs when a transplanted Los Angeles based gang member gets relocated he receives instant street respect from the local gang. Using the name of a southern California based gang tends to enhance the new gang’s reputation. This phenomenon has been well documented with Hispanic and African-American types of gangs that have formed in the mid-west and east coast. Even though this is not a true form of gang migration, it tends to be a leading cause for the formation ofnew cliques that claim a southern California affiliation in the mid-west and east coast.

By the late 1990s Southern California based street gangs have established themselves in the Mid-west and East Coast through other mechanisms which tended to support the theory that


Chapter 1 – Overview

there had been an increasing level ofgang migration. There can be a number ofmechanisms that contribute to gang migration. Individually they might impact the number of migrating gang members. However, collectively then have a larger impact than most people would like to believe.

We need a word of caution here. There is a tendency for the public to define all or the majority of immigrant population based on the actions of a very small number of immigrants. Experience and anecdotal evidence suggest just the opposite. A small percentage of immigrants get involved in street gangs; remember around 1 percent. Sadly, this small percentage is able to dictate how a large percentage of us live. You must also consider two basic types of migration processes; transnational and national immigration and migration. One focuses on movement within a country and the other on movement between countries.

Quality of Life

Family moving could be another factor that influences migration and immigration. When a family moves to a new community to get their children out of an unsafe environment many times these families already have a child absorbed in the gang life. All too often, this environmental issue is the only one addressed. Many parents have told me, ‘7 thought moving would get my child out of the gang” In essence, the gang mentality and behaviors that were within a child were never dealt with and they were taken to the new home.

Ifthere is an existing street gang in the new area, these youth tend to migrate toward them. It is almost as if they are on autopilot. Regardless of how the parents try to prevent this, the same problems appear and again the family unit is compromised.

Under the same circumstances if there are no gangs in these areas, the transplanted families inadvertently can potentially bring a gang seed with them. The child now becomes a big fish in a little pond. These children sometimes start up new gangs or factions of the gang they belonged to. In the mid- west and east coast, these gangs tend to take on a distinct west coast style. They may even use names like Sureno, Sureno-13, Crips, Bloods, MS-13, or 18th Street.

I would like you to try and remember a concept we all learned in high school biology. Osmosis is a simple concept; between a cell membrane water seeks to be in equal concentrations. So water will cross the membrane until it is in equal concentrations. I want you to consider our southern border as an economic membrane. There is migration across the membrane by people in search of work and opportunity. Criminals take advantage of this behavior and blend in with those coming across the border. Based on the actions of those few criminals entire populations are labeled. This is known as stereotyping.


There are many minimum wage paying jobs in the mid-west and east coast. These types of jobs are an ideal form of employment for immigrant and migrant working families. The search for employment has driven west coast and newly arrived families to move to where the work is. When the family makes the transition they bring along their children. Some youth are members or associates of southern California based street gangs, others can be become part of a new victim or recruitment pool.

Once relocated, these youth have instant notoriety with the local youth because they are gang members from southern California. In turn some form a clique of their L.A. based gang, recruiting from the local youth pool and establish a southern California based street gang in the mid-west or east coast. The local youth pool can also include immigrant youth.

There are a number of seasonal agriculture working families that make a living by traveling to where the work is. As the agricultural seasons change, the families move to the next area in search of employment. Sometimes the children attend local schools. The new children become


Gang Growth and Migration Studies

the target of local gangs. They may form a gang initially for protection and the cycle starts again. 1 hese types of relocations can be frequent or semi-permanent.

Klein, Maxson and Miller (2001) suggest that families searching for employment are one mechanism that aids in gang migration. Families will relocate to get a better paying job or to increase job opportunities. In an attempt to increase the family’s quality of life the move often also transplants gang members from one are to another. They are correct the economic membrane is crossed everyday for this very reason.

Probation / Parole

Another mechanism for intrastate migration is the parole and probation system. When a gangster is released from prison or local jail, he or she may be paroled or place on a probation grant in a different county or a different part of the state. The relocated parolee or probationer will have to stay within the jurisdictional area and could establish a new set or clique of his gang. When this happens, the newly formed gang tends to be the rival of any existing gang, especially if the gang is turf oriented.

Forced Moves

Sometimes moves may be forced. Factors that have forced the move have included when a family member is relocated through a victim/witness program. Or a family member is injured and the family relocates near the treatment center. Sometimes a family is evicted from a rented residence. In some cases, the family moves near the prison where a husband, son, daughter is incarcerated. Regardless of the reason, younger siblings who are involved in gangs are brought with the family. The gang again can be transplanted.

Siblings who have a dysfunctional family life may be forced to move. They may relocate to a relative or friend’s home. Often here are only temporary accommodations. Sometimes these youth will live on the street because they have no money to afford rent.

Gang Alliances

Another mechanism that helps inter and intra state gang migration is the establishing of gang alliances for national criminal activities. Gangs from the west coast can establish working relationships with gangs from the mid-west or east coast. These relationships can assist to establish national drug routes or money laundering operations.

Recent law enforcement observations have confirmed some unusual alliances between west coast gangs and gangs from the mid-west. Normally these gangs are rivals with each other. A few business relationships have been documented and it is theorized that the reason for the cooperation between the gangs is for making money through the drug trade.

Because ofthe advent oftrans-national gangs cliques ofthe same gang may have contacts in other countries. These alliances may be difficult to track and monitor. In addition, trans-national contacts can facilitate gang related criminal activities and present prosecution issues.


Some gangs operate as mobile criminal enterprises as commonly seen with some of the Asian gangs, especially with some Indo-Chinese gangs. When traveling from city to city, county to county and from state to state occasionally a gang member or two will remain behind. It may be because of a disagreement between gang members or simply because they like the area. When this happens only a short period passes before these gang members start recruiting members to form a new gang or they join an existing street gang.

Indo-Chinese gangs are not the only street gangs to do this. Some Hispanic, African-American, White and Skinhead gangs have traveled within different parts of a state to commit crime for profit. The Indo-Chinese gangs are not the only street gang to travel to commit


Chapter 1 – Overview

crime. As a group, they attempt that type of crime more often than other street gangs. Traveling to commit criminal activity becomes another type of migration mechanism.

Based on the findings of current research drug trafficking appears to be a major factor in gangs migrating between states, within states and out ofthe country (National Alliance of Gang investigators, 2005).


Another migration mechanism involves an unwilling participant, our U.S. military. The armed forces need to keep our military in a ready state. This necessitates transfers and re-assignments. This movement becomes a built-in mechanism that has been used by enlisted gang members. These gang members use the military as a resource. Transfers and re-assignments can also facilitate the gang recruitment process. It is easy to understand why all types of gangs are represented in our national military installations, overseas and aboard Navy surface vessels.

The longer an unnoticed enlisted gang member can stay in the military, the more transfers and relocations he can get. An active gang recruiter can recruit and spread his gang all over the world. The key is to be a good soldier, marine, airman or seaman. The enlisted person that brings the least attention to himself is never noticed. In the military, this can be easily accomplished by doing your job.

As enlisted/officer transfers occur, family moves are inevitable. If a dependant belongs to a local street gang off base before the move, when the family relocates to new base, so does the gang member and gang. Just as in the civilian population, the dependant gang member(s) can become a big fish on a base with little or no gang problem. This can be particularly perplexing for any military police or investigative service. To compound the issue the military is generally not allowed to keep gang intelligence files. As a result the military police and investigative service units assigned to one base often do not pass on information to sibling units at other bases. Intra and inter communications between other branches of the service id non-existent when it comes to sharing intelligence on gang activity.


A divorce or separation is not thought of as a gang migration mechanism. But a family break up can be just that. Unfortunately, the United States has seen a decline in the traditional two-parent family. One early 1990s estimate indicated that 18 million American children (27 percent of the nation’s children) are growing up in single parent homes. As divorce and separation rates continue to climb we see the un-anticipated impact on gang migration.

Youth are more likely to have problems when parents divorce or separate. This makes them prime targets for the gang association and membership. If a child is already part of gang to escape an emotional or physically abusive home, the subsequent court ordered custody to one parent and subsequent move become the mechanism that allows that gang member to move. This can happen whether the re-location and parent assignment is voluntary or court ordered.

These divorces and custody battles can be very emotional and ultimately the children bear the blunt. No matter what is done or said many times the children feel they are responsible for the divorce. As the children are tugged between households, they yearn for a consistent family life. The gang family can offer that. As one 16 year-old gangster told me, “My homies, myfamily is always therefor me.” The sad fact is the replacement or gang family demancls unquestioned loyalty and with that loyalty comes a commitment and willingness to employ violence.


Sometimes, gang migrations may be caused by a school expulsion. If a child is expelled from school, often the student gang member relocates to a relative or friends home in a new


Gang Growth and Migration Studies

school district. This type of student then registers in the new school district; enters the student population and brings his gang mentality with him. All too often, the new school experiences the presence ot the gang member transplant very quickly. Teachers have commented they first notice the new gang member’s presence through written schoolwork or through classroom behavior.

Some students do make an attempt to turn their lives around. However, as new students sometimes the existing students immediately single them out. If the new school already has an existing gang influence, the new student’s entry can be difficult. This is especially true if the new student has gang tattoos, because the tattoos would advertise his gang membership to a foreign gang.

Do not forget that some gang members go to college. When they enroll they also can enroll their gang life style. This can be seen in college dorm life. Although somewhat more subtle than living in the neighborhood, the gang presence is almost always noticed.

Drug/Human Trafficking

The previously mention factors in themselves may not be considered as migration influences by other professionals. Individually, they may not impact gang migration much. Collectively they do. Of all the migration factors the next one is probably the most influential. Probably because money is involved and gang members tend to make illegal activities the primary way to develop income.

The trafficking of illegal drugs and human beings has become a common enterprise that some street gangs have engaged in. Research also suggests that younger street gang members are selling drugs. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reported in the executive summary for the 1998 National Gang survey that one third of the youth gangs were drug selling gangs (OJJDP, 1998).

Not at the organized level associated with major drug cartels or prison gangs. But at the street level and the dealers tend to be younger local street gang members (National Drug Intelligence Center, 1998). And why not? The country as a whole contains about 1/21st of the world’s population. As a nation we consume over 50 percent of the world’s illegal drugs (DEA, 1999).

Evidence to support this theory may have some anecdotal origin, but it is strong. For example, in 2006 a 2400 foot long tunnel was found leading from a home in Mexico to another home across the border in the San Diego area. DEA officials were able to show that the tunnel complete with lighting and ventilation was used to transport drugs into the United States. A drug dealer can make enormous amounts of unreported income selling drugs. A sales territory can become very important, especially to those who use and are addicted to drugs.

This candid observation becomes important when discussing gang migration. Drug dealers need product to sell. The drugs that are sold locally come from drug suppliers who often operate out of the country. Sometimes the suppliers are often trusted members of the gang, extended family members or trusted dealers. If you relocate to another part of the country there is a tendency to maintain your relationships with your drug connections back home.

This implies that if you are a west coast transplant your drug supply comes from the west coast. This in turn facilitates the interstate transport of illegal drugs. And in turn, spawns a new tentacle within the gang sub-culture to develop a specialty crime; drug trafficking. Gang members and associates are used for the interstate transport of drugs for their street gangs. This includes using public transportation like buses and trains, personal cars and commercial airlines.

An academic study (Goldstein and Huff, 1993) tends to support three mechanisms that influence this type of gang migration. Moving into smaller cities means that competition between drug dealers and suppliers tends to be less intense because there are fewer gang


Chapter 1 – Overview

members. This makes it easier for migration gang members to establish narcotic trafficking. The first street gang into a specific location is able to designate its own boundaries. This can allow a gang to develop a monopoly. This type of scenario can also allow members of this gang to claim they own the entire town. Of course the gang will have to defend this drug sales turf from other gangs.

Secondly, illegal drugs are often more scarce in smaller cities and rural towns. This will provide a mechanism to make a greater profit. Remember the law of supply and demand. A low supply of product will result in higher prices. All we have to do is remember what happened during the gas shortages. This factor will continue to be important because the majority of drug supply lines bypass rural towns and small cities.

Last, in rural towns and small cities the local law enforcement may be less experienced at dealing with gang members, and or gang members who traffic illegal drugs (Jensen and Yerington, 1997). It should be no surprise to note the executive summary of the 1998 National Youth Gang survey also suggested that rural America was seeing the largest increase of gang that sell drugs (OJJDP, 2000).

Gang Studies

The street gang phenomenon had relatively little scientific inquiry until the 1970s. Prior to that time, only a few academic studies on the dynamics, profiles, types or the customs and practices of street gangs where conducted. It has been generally accepted that a study completed by Thrasher (1927) was the first gang research project in the country. However, the majority of research on street and prison gangs is less than 50 years old and much of that, less than 15 years old. Even though gang behaviors can be traced back to colonial America only a few studies done in 1960 sparked the interest in street gang research.

There were a couple of societal influences that sparked a 1970s academic interest in street gangs. One was certainly media coverage. The entertainment and music industry took advantage of the gang sub-culture. Movies gave fictional accounts of what street gang life should be while glorifying street gang violence. Hardcore rap music today still continues to express a great anger with the system. Hard core rap song lyrics promote the idea of a conspiracy by White America to systematically eradicate the Black man. The use violence against women and the police was and still is a popular theme. These themes are also carried in Hispanic gang and White Supremacist rap music.

The advent of watching live police shootings and pursuits on national television also aided in the spread ofwhat I call vicarious violence. People watched TV, saw the movie or listened to the rap music, then walked away, as if nothing has happened. There was no consequence, because what was experienced was entertainment. Without realizing it, many young people experienced violence and nothing physically happened to them, or so it was thought. Many criminal justice professionals have known about this phenomenon that mental health professionals have observed and commented about.

Two things can happen. First, the viewer or listener has a tendency to become desensitized. Secondly, for some people, the movie characters are not fictional, but real life people. The rap music lyrics are not only representative and just verbal frustrations of a small segment of the African-American population. For some gang members they actually represent their real struggles against the police and the establishment. Some gang members identify with the rap music artist or movie character.

The result, of course, is that for some young people, fiction becomes reality. Some street gangsters began, have and continue to aspire to be like the character they saw in the movie. In fact, for some gang members there is a direct connection between the movies and their own lives. In 1999 Jokey, a female gang member from the Drifters street gang, in Los Angeles said, “… people spend seven dollars to go to a movie and see what I live everyday for free” An


Gang Growth and Migration Studies

astonishing remark for a pregnant female gang member who was smoking marijuana laced with crack. She also chose to be homeless and was only 18 years old.

Ironically, only a few major news networks produce specials about life in the gang sub-culture. When they are aired, some criminal justice experts claim these specials only glorify the gang life. Investigative reporters have told me they believe the public has a right to know about street life. Chris Blatchford, investigative reporter, FOX News, Channel 11, Los Angeles told me in an interview, “that some reporters might have a tendency to push because of the intense competition between news agencies. ” Blatchford was also quick to point out that reporters have a job to do and that job is to get the news out.

Formal academic studies tend to show that the street gang life for the majority of street gang members is nothing like what is portrayed in the news specials. This is true. The reality is that street gang life is mixture of both perspectives. The academic studies may show what the majority of street gang members do. The news specials document what the violent minority does. From a criminal justice perspective, we deal with the violent minority most of our time. Research suggests that the violent minority gang membership is thought to be somewhere between 8-10 percent of the total gang population and appears to be responsible for about 52 percent of the violent gang crime (Smith and Kent, 1995).

Another factor that prompted formal studies was the growth ofviolent gang crime in the late 70s and early 80s. These changes in crime trends also caused academic professionals, social scientists and criminal justice professionals to look at specific age groups. As foretold, the mid 1990s became the crime peak that many professionals predicted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But something odd happened, instead of a rising through the mid to late 1990s, the crime rates took a slight downward trend and then leveled off, during 1997 and 1998.

The violent crime rates still continued to drop slightly into the year 2000. Some crime categories stayed static during 2003 and 2004 and a few tended to rise. Although violent gang homicides seem to be stable, violent assaults that do not include murder are on the increase. Drug trafficking by gang members was also on the rise during 2003 and 2004.

A national attitude soon developed. We are safer now because the crime rate has dropped. The media was the tool used to spread the good news by citing U.S. Department of Justice reports based on crime rate data for juveniles and adults. This has helped promote an attitude that there is no longer a problem. Well, I don’t completely agree with this interpretation of the crime rate data. Yes, ifwe look at just adult and juvenile crime rates separately, there has been a decrease and stabilization of the crime rates.

However, the level at which crime rates have stabilized it is still 3 to 5 times higher than they were in the 1960s. Just because the crime rates have decreased and leveled off, are we really safer? Besides, the crime rate indexes show that violent juvenile crime committed with a gun is still rising and offers no explanation of why juvenile homicide rates increased 150 percent before stabilizing. Nor does this change offer any explanation why juvenile crime has out-paced adult crime between 1990 and 2000 and why it appears to continue to do so.

10-10-80 Theory

There is really no accurate way to determine the number of gang members in the country because of the definition issue. Only gross estimates can be made based on available data from surveys on street gangs and gang populations. The gang population has a minority membership that is involved in the majority of violent crime. It is estimated to be somewhere between 8 and 10 percent. The majority of the time gang life involves around, legal, delinquent and misdemeanor behavior. All gangs have a willingness and potential to use violence. Some street gangs violence randomly, as they feel it is needed and some use violence consistently. Trend-wise, it appears that more gang members are getting involved in drug sales. If this increases, drug sales could fuel gang migration within and without of a state.


Chapter 1 – Overview

I want to present the 10-10-80 theory here. I am suggesting that many formal academic studies work with about 80 percent of the gang population. Most academic research does not target the most active gang members in the country. The behavior models that are developed and suggested may be accurate for 80 percent of the gang population.

Research completed by the Westminster Police Department suggests that the majority of violent gang crime (over 50 percent) is committed by 8 to 10 percent of the gang members (Smith and Kent, 1995). This implies that there may a sub-group of gang members within the general gang population. I concur because anecdotal law enforcement evidence suggests that this 8 to 10 percent group accounts for a disproportional amount of gang crime. Therefore, behavior models for this group may not fit published academic models because they describe two different groups of gang members. Basically we are comparing lemons and oranges, both are citrus fruits but distinctly different, yet both share many of the same characteristics.

In my theory I am also suggesting that the criminal justice profession never contacts a small percentage of the gang population. These gang members successfully conceal their gang membership and activities much like many drug traffickers. The actual percentages may be smaller a comprehensive research project would ultimately be able to determine that.

However, what my theory suggests is that the majority of gang members do not commit the majority of the violent gang crime. I suggest that a ratio exists between three sub-groups within the general gang population and the relationships within these groups affect suppression, intervention and prevention program design and implementation. Criminal justice professionals and the media often deal with the 10 percent group that commits the majority of crime. Academic professionals deal with a majority of the gang population. A small percentage, roughly 10 percent are not contacted at all, hence the 10-10-80 name. These three sub groups comprise the entire gang population (Valdez, 2000).


Even though a number of gang migration mechanisms have been identified in this text there are probably more. In the early 1990s migrating gang members accounted for a limited number ofnew gangs that formed across the country. When a migrating gang member forms a new gang the impact may be felt immediately. The exported gang culture and local societal factors have had the greatest influence on the formation of street gangs across the country. Most gangs form within the geographical boundaries of their city or town and draw their membership from the local population. However, migrating gang members are having an increasing effect on this phenomenon. A small percentage of gang members account for a disproportionate amount of the violent gang related crime.