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American Gangs




Street gangs are criminal organizations formed on the street operating throughout the United States.


Prison gangs are criminal organizations that originated within the penal system and operate within correctional facilities throughout the United States, although released members may be operating on the street. Prison gangs are also self-perpetuating criminal entities that can continue their criminal operations outside the confines of the penal system.

Outlaw Motorcycle (OMGs)

OMGs are organizations whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises. Although some law enforcement agencies regard only One Percenters as OMGs, the NGIC, for the purpose of this assessment, covers all OMG criminal organizations, including OMG support and puppet clubs.

One Percenter

ATF defines One Percenters as any group of motorcyclists who have voluntarily made a commitment to band together to abide by their organization’s rules enforced by violence and who engage in activities that bring them and their club into repeated and serious conflict with society and the law. The group must be an ongoing organization, association of three (3) or more persons which have a common interest and/or activity characterized by the commission of or involvement in a pattern of criminal or delinquent conduct. ATF estimates there are approximately 300 One Percenter OMGs in the United States.


Neighborhood or Local street gangs are confined to specific neighborhoods and jurisdictions and often imitate larger, more powerful national gangs. The primary purpose for many neighborhood gangs is drug distribution and sales.

A gang is any group gathered together on a continuing basis to commit anti-social behavior. Following a yearly decline from 1996 to a low in 2003, annual estimates of gang activity in the US steadily increased thereafter. Violence is a rare occurrence in proportion to all gang activities. For the most part, gang members "hang out" and are involved in other normal adolescent social activities, but drinking, drug use, and drug trafficking are also common.

Homicide has become the leading cause of death among minority adolescent males in some inner city areas. Historically, black youth [adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 years] had substantially higher deaths rates than white youth. The mortality rate for black youth declined sharply between 1935 and 2007, from a relative mortality risk of 2.9 in 1940 to 1.4 in 2007. But youth homicide rates were 13.9 times higher for non-Hispanic blacks, 5.0 times higher for Hispanics, 2.7 times higher for American Indians/Alaska Natives, and 1.28 times higher for Asian/Pacific Islanders than for non-Hispanic whites. Some of the race and sex disparities in youth mortality are quite remarkable, such as a 25-fold greater risk of homicide among young black males compared to young white females.

Crimes pertaining to incidents arising from ongoing conflicts and rivalries between gangs (e.g., disrespect, symbolic dominance), while instrumental crimes pertain to incidents surrounding economic functions (e.g., drug sales). In multiple studies over the past 25 years, a repeated finding is the lack of a direct drug component surrounding most gang-related homicides. That is, in a large majority of these cases, the motives for the events pertained to the expressive and not the instrumental nature of gang violence.

Gang violence was very prevalent in the 1960's and gangs had become more dangerous than ever in the 1970s. According to the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports, each year between 1993 and 2003, from 5% to 7% of all homicides and from 8% to 10% of homicides committed with a firearm were gang related. The total number of gang homicides reported averaged nearly 2,000 annually from 2007 to 2012. During roughly the same time period (2007 to 2011), the FBI estimated, on average, more than 15,500 homicides across the United States.

These estimates suggest that gang-related homicides typically accounted for around 13 percent of all homicides annually. In a typical year in the so-called “gang capitals” of Chicago and Los Angeles, around half of all homicides are gang-related. The urban homicide problem has increasingly become a gang homicide problem.

US-Based Gangs
with Ties to Mexican Cartels

  • Arizona Mafia
  • Aryan Brotherhood
  • Avenues
  • Bandidos
  • Barrio Azteca
  • Barrio Westside
  • Black Guerilla Family
  • Bloods
  • California Mexican
  • Mafia (Eme)
  • Crips
  • Hardtimes 13
  • Happytown Pomona
  • Hells Angels
  • Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos (HPL)
  • La Nuestra Familia
  • Latin Kings
  • Lennox 13
  • Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)
  • Mexican Mafia
  • Mongols
  • Norteños
  • Satan's Disciples
  • Sureños
  • Tango Blast
  • Texas Mexican Mafia (Mexikanemi)
  • Texas Syndicate
  • Tri-City Bombers
  • Vagos
  • Vatos Locos
  • Westside Nogalitas
  • Wetback Power
  • Wonder Boys
  • 18th Street Gang
  • Gangs are expanding, evolving and posing an increasing threat to US communities nationwide. Gang involvement in alien smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution is increasing primarily due to their higher profitability and lower risks of detection and punishment than that of drug and weapons trafficking. Although the majority of the violence from feuding drug cartels occurs in Mexico, the porous US Southwest Border region has fueled Mexican drug cartel activity, where easy access to weapons, a high demand for drugs, ample opportunity for law enforcement corruption, and a large Hispanic population ripe for recruitment and exploitation exists.

    Gang members’ vulnerability to radicalization and recruitment for involvement in international or domestic terrorism organizations is a growing concern to law enforcement. Gang members’ perceptions of disenfranchisement from or rejection of mainstream society and resentment towards authority makes them more susceptible to joining such groups and can be attractive and easy targets for radicalization by extremist groups. Prison gangs that tend to be dedicated to political or social issues are often more susceptible to influence by extremist ideologies. In some instances, prison gang members may even emulate various terrorist movements by embracing their symbolism and ideology to enhance the gang’s own militant image within the prison setting. Prison and street gang members are also susceptible on an individual basis to radicalization.

    Gang infiltration of law enforcement, government, and correctional agencies poses a significant security threat due to the access criminals have to sensitive information pertaining to investigations or protected persons. Gang members serving in law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities may compromise security and criminal investigations and operations, while acquiring knowledge and training in police tactics and weapons. Corrupt law enforcement officers and correctional staff have assisted gang members in committing crimes and have impeded investigations.

    Gang recruitment of active duty military personnel constitutes a significant criminal threat to the US military. Members of nearly every major street gang, as well as some prison gangs and OMGs, have been reported on both domestic and international military installations, according to NGIC analysis and multiple law enforcement reporting. Through transfers and deployments, military-affiliated gang members expand their culture and operations to new regions nationwide and worldwide, undermining security and law enforcement efforts to combat crime. Gang members with military training pose a unique threat to law enforcement personnel because of their distinctive weapons and combat training skills and their ability to transfer these skills to fellow gang members.

    Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations [MDTOs] are among the most prominent DTOs largely because of their control over the production of most drugs consumed in the United States. They are known to regularly collaborate with US-based street and prison gang members and occasionally work with select OMG and White Supremacist groups, purely for financial gain.

    Many gangs are sophisticated criminal networks with members who are violent, distribute wholesale quantities of drugs, and develop and maintain close working relationships with members and associates of transnational criminal/drug trafficking organizations. Gangs are becoming more violent while engaging in less typical and lower-risk crime, such as prostitution and white-collar crime. Gangs are more adaptable, organized, sophisticated, and opportunistic, exploiting new and advanced technology as a means to recruit, communicate discretely, target their rivals, and perpetuate their criminal activity.

    The conservative estimate of nationwide gang-crime activity, based on law enforcement reports, is 8,625 gangs, 378,807 gang members, and 437,066 gang-related crimes for 1993. A more reasonable estimate is 16,643 gangs, 555,181 gang members, and 580,331 gang-related crimes for 1993. There were approximately 1.4 million active street, prison, and OMG gang members in 2011, comprising more than 33,000 gangs in the United States. This represented a 40 percent increase from an estimated 1 million gang members in 2009.

    The NGIC attributes increase in gang membership primarily to improved reporting, more aggressive recruitment efforts by gangs, the formation of new gangs, new opportunities for drug trafficking, and collaboration with rival gangs and drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).

    Once incarcerated, most street gang members join an established prison gang to ensure their protection. Based on data provided by federal and state correctional agencies, the NGIC estimated in 2011 that there were approximately 230,000 gang members incarcerated in federal and state prisons nationwide. Their large numbers and dominant presence allows prison gangs to employ bribery, intimidation, and violence to exert influence and control over many correctional facilities. Violent disputes over control of drug territory and enforcement of drug debts frequently occur among incarcerated gang members. Gang members who have been incarcerated are often more respected on the streets by younger gang members, which makes it easier to establish or re-establish themselves in leadership positions and order younger gang members to commit crimes.

    Gang members are becoming more sophisticated in their structure and operations and are modifying their activity to minimize law enforcement scrutiny and circumvent gang enhancement laws. Gangs in several jurisdictions have modified or ceased traditional or stereotypical gang indicia and no longer display their colors, tattoos, or hand signs.

    Gang membership increased most significantly in the Northeast and Southeast regions, although the West and Great Lakes regions boast the highest number of gang members. Neighborhood-based gangs, hybrid gang members, and national-level gangs such as the Sureños are rapidly expanding in many jurisdictions. Many communities are also experiencing an increase in ethnic-based gangs such as African, Asian, Caribbean, and Eurasian gangs.

    Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others, according to NGIC analysis. Major cities and suburban areas experience the most gang-related violence. Local neighborhood-based gangs and drug crews continue to pose the most significant criminal threat in most communities. Aggressive recruitment of juveniles and immigrants, alliances and conflict between gangs, the release of incarcerated gang members from prison, advancements in technology and communication, and Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization (MDTO) involvement in drug distribution have resulted in gang expansion and violence in a number of jurisdictions.

    Gangs are increasingly engaging in non-traditional gang-related crime, such as alien smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution. Gangs are also engaging in white-collar crime such as counterfeiting, identity theft, and mortgage fraud, primarily due to the high profitability and much lower visibility and risk of detection and punishment than drug and weapons trafficking.

    US-based gangs have established strong working relationships with Central American and MDTOs to perpetrate illicit cross-border activity, as well as with some organized crime groups in some regions of the United States. US-based gangs and MDTOs are establishing wide-reaching drug networks; assisting in the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and illegal immigrants along the Southwest Border; and serving as enforcers for MDTO interests on the US side of the border.

    Asian gangs, historically limited to regions with large Asian populations, are expanding throughout communities nationwide. Although often considered street gangs, Asian gangs operate similar to Asian Criminal Enterprises with a more structured organization and hierarchy. They are not turf-oriented like most African-American and Hispanic street gangs and typically maintain a low profile to avoid law enforcement scrutiny. Asian gang members are known to prey on their own race and often develop a relationship with their victims before victimizing them. Law enforcement officials have limited knowledge of Asian gangs and often have difficulty penetrating these gangs because of language barriers and gang distrust of non-Asians.

    Although largely confined to the East Coast, Caribbean gangs, such as Dominican, Haitian, and Jamaican gangs, are expanding in a number of communities throughout the United States. Haitian gangs, such as the Florida-based Zoe Pound, have proliferated in many states primarily along the East Coast in recent years. Traditional Jamaican gangs operating in the United States are generally unsophisticated and lack a significant hierarchical structure, unlike gangs in Jamaica. The Trinitarios, the most rapidly-expanding Caribbean gang and the largest Dominican gang, are a violent prison gang with members operating on the street. The Trinitarios are involved in homicide, violent assaults, robbery, theft, home invasions, and street-level drug distribution. Although predominate in New York and New Jersey, the Trinitarios have expanded to communities throughout the eastern United States.

    The Juggalos, a loosely-organized hybrid gang, are rapidly expanding into many US communities. Although recognized as a gang in only four states, many Juggalos subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence. Juggalos’ disorganization and lack of structure within their groups, coupled with their transient nature, makes it difficult to classify them and identify their members and migration patterns. Many criminal Juggalo sub-sets are comprised of transient or homeless individuals.

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    Page last modified: 26-08-2018 04:52:14 ZULU