October 21, 2011

The Continuing Gang Threat

Latest Assessment Released

National Gang Threat Assessment Cover 2011

Gangs are expanding, evolving, and posing an increasing threat to U.S. communities.

That’s the bottom line of the just-released 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, and it probably doesn’t come as a great surprise to anyone who follows the news or is active in their community.

This latest assessment—prepared by the National Gang Intelligence Center—builds on the gang-related trends and criminal threats identified in the 2009 assessment. The findings in the 2011 report are based on data from federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and corrections agencies as well as open source information.

The key findings from the 2011 assessment:

  • There are an estimated 1.4 million active street, prison, and outlaw motorcycle gang members in more than 33,000 gangs operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. (Those numbers reflect an increase from 2009 figures, due primarily to more comprehensive reporting from law enforcement and enhanced gang recruiting efforts.)
  • Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others.
  • Gangs are increasingly engaging in non-traditional gang-related crimes like alien smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution, as well as white-collar crimes like 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.
  • Gang members are acquiring high-powered, military-style weapons and equipment, which poses a significant threat because of the potential to engage in lethal encounters with law enforcement and citizens alike.
  • Gangs are becoming increasingly adaptable and sophisticated, employing new and advanced technology—including social networking websites—to carry out criminal activity discreetly and connect with other gang members, criminal organizations, and potential recruits around the country and around the world.

Gang growth. Law enforcement officials nationwide have reported an expansion of African, Asian, Eurasian, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern gangs. The so-called Sureno gangs—Mexican-American street gangs that originated in the barrios of Southern California—are also expanding, and faster than other national-level gangs, both geographically and in terms of membership. Those gangs include Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), 18th Street, and Florencia 13.

Law enforcement agencies also noted the growing problem of hybrid gangs—non-traditional gangs with multiple affiliations that are present in at least 25 states. Because of their multiple affiliations, as well as different ethnicities, migratory nature, and nebulous structure, hybrid gangs are tough for law enforcement to identify and target.

Gangs along the border. Along the Southwest border, U.S.-based gangs assist in the smuggling of drugs, arms, and illegal immigrants and serve as enforcers for Mexican drug trafficking organizations’ interests on the U.S. side of the border. Gangs also pose a growing problem for law enforcement along the U.S.-Canada border—smuggling drugs, cigarettes, firearms, and immigrants.

Law enforcement response. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies—working with international partners as appropriate—remain committed to disrupting and dismantling illegal gang activities through intelligence-driven investigations. The FBI’s 168 violent crime “Safe Streets” task forces around the country are a prime example of law enforcement cooperation at its best—during the past 10 years, task force investigations have resulted in convictions of more than 23,000 gang members, associates, and other criminals.

- 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment
- Press release
- FBI, This Week podcast
- More on FBI anti-gang efforts