Information for Parents, Educators and Community Residents
Gangs are a community problem. Understanding them and acknowledging that they may exist in our families, our schools and our neighborhoods are the first steps to addressing them.
Understanding Youth Gang Involvement
Juvenile street gang members transcend age, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status. Youth who join have different backgrounds and circumstances that lead to their involvement, but there are some common characteristics that they share. Initiated gang members are most likely between the ages of 12 and 25, though they can be much younger or well into adulthood.
The majority are male, from single parent homes, or homes where there is little supervision or high family conflict. They are usually low academic performers, truants, and cause disciplinary problems at home and school. They have low self-esteem and are usually indifferent, angry, and apathetic because they feel hopeless.
- Graffiti or tattoos depicting numbers, initials, street names, geographic areas, stars, pitchforks, three dots, crowns.
- Wearing clothing of all one color.
- Wearing or possession of bandannas.
- Use of an unfamiliar nickname.
- Signs of drug/alcohol use.
- Signs of physical abuse.
- Truancy and/or poor grades at school.
- Discipline problems at home and/or school.
Why Do Young People Join Gangs?
While there are a number of risk factors that contribute to gang involvement ranging from adolescent rebelliousness to community disorganization, there are also common reasons most young people say they join:
- Lack of parental involvement.
- Seeking a sense of family structure, belonging, and discipline provided by the gang.
- Respect and recognition.
- Companionship. Friends are involved.
- Lack of positive role models.
- Family history of gang involvement.
- Peer pressure/coercion.
- Protection or revenge.
- Pride for neighborhood.
- Opportunities to make money.
- Access to drugs, alcohol, weapons, sex.
Ways to Deter Youth from Gang Involvement
- Educate yourself on gangs and gang culture so you can recognize the warning signs. Be alert for them.
- Meet their basic needs for emotional support and understanding.
- Talk to them, listen to them, and let them know you're there for them.
- Be involved - know their friends, support their interests, participate in their school events, spend time with them.
- Encourage participation in positive extracurricular activities.
- Establish consistent rules and discipline.
- Limit unsupervised time.
- Be a positive role model.
What You Can Do if You Suspect Gang Involvement
- Don't allow gang related behavior or displays of gang affiliation. Talk about these warning signs to determine if kids are just curious or imitating gang culture, if they're being recruited by a gang or if they may already be involved.
- Discuss the dangers and consequences of gang involvement with your kids. Imitating gang related behavior can also be dangerous.
- Contact law enforcement to learn about the levels of gang related crime and activity in your community and at your student's school.
- Contact youth service providers or school counselors for referrals to organizations that have experience in addressing gang and other delinquency related issues.
Gangs in Schools
Schools are the primary place for young people to socialize and interact so they are a natural choice for recruiting and drug distribution. The presence of gangs in schools can disrupt the learning environment, cause fear among students, and create a negative impression of the school.
Gang activity at schools can also have an adverse affect on the community that the school is located in because they can initiate violence both on and off the campus. However, gangs at schools can be limited and their activity can be controlled if school administrators acknowledge their presence and develop proactive plans that include gang prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies, and information sharing processes.
What Schools Can Do to Address Gang Activity
- Adopt a zero tolerance policy towards gang activity.
- Work with school resource officers or local law enforcement on identification and suppression strategies.
- Educate staff and parents about gangs; warning signs and indicators.
- Provide referrals and assistance to parents and students.
- Document and abate graffiti as soon as possible.
- Institute anti-gang education and prevention programs.
- Develop a conflict mediation process for students.
- Keep up to date on gang activity within the school's neighborhood.
- Share information.
Gangs and the Community
Although their presence may go unnoticed, criminal street gangs exist in many communities within rural areas and urban cities. They can be territorial or profit motivated, committing both violent and non-violent crimes that can negatively affect a community's overall quality of life.
As with all crime related issues in a community, residents should be aware of and report crime and suspicious activity to law enforcement officials. Community involvement is as important as policing in the effort to prevent, control and stop crime.
Things a Community Can Do to Address Gang Activity
- Educate yourself on gangs. Know the warning signs and indicators.
- Abate graffiti on your property as soon as possible. Report graffiti that is on public property to the city or the county.
- Report crime or suspicious activity to law enforcement. Be as specific as possible with the information you provide.
- Be active in your community and attend meetings to get updates on crime in and around your neighborhood.
- Get to know your neighbors. Organize citizens on patrol or neighborhood watch groups, phone or email trees to alert neighbors about recent incidents. Utilize your community newsletter or website to post reports on activity.