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National Drug Intelligence Center
Attorney General's Report to Congress on the Growth of Violent Street Gangs in Suburban Areas
April 2008

The Growth of Gangs in Suburban Areas

Gangs are fully entrenched in many suburban communities across the nation; they began to expand from urban areas into suburban communities during the 1970s, continued their expansion in the 1980s, and launched into full-scale migration during the 1990s. Many notable gangs such as the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples, Black Peace Stones, and Latin Kings initially formed as organizations for political and social reform during the 1960s. However, by the early 1970s, the focus of a number of these gangs moved from reform to criminal activity for profit. At this time gang activity was largely confined to urban areas.

Throughout the 1970s urban gangs became better organized and began to expand their activities into surrounding communities. The movement of urban gang members to suburban areas resulted in some territorial conflicts between rival urban gang members moving into the area, in addition to some territorial conflicts with existing suburban gang members. The gang members who migrated from urban areas often formed new, neighborhood-based local gangs. Local gangs generally controlled their territories through violence and intimidation. In addition, they sought to increase their size by recruiting new members, who were typically from single-parent, low-income households and who had a limited education. Local gangs engaged in a wide range of criminal activity, including retail-level drug distribution.

During the 1980s larger urban gangs that engaged in drug trafficking began to expand their drug distribution networks into suburban areas traditionally influenced by local gangs. The larger gangs controlled drug distribution in city drug markets; they were motivated to move into adjoining communities to generate additional income by capitalizing on burgeoning powder cocaine and crack cocaine abuse. Large urban gangs generated millions of dollars from trafficking illicit drugs in urban and suburban areas; this income enabled the gangs to recruit new members and to force smaller local gangs to either disband or align with them, thereby increasing their dominance. Also, many urban gang leaders directed members to survey new locations throughout the country to create subsets or chapters with the intended purpose of establishing new drug markets to generate additional illicit profit. As various gangs attempted to expand nationally, they often were met with initial resistance by local gangs. This resistance resulted in an increased number of homicides and drive-by-shootings in suburban communities.

Gangs became entrenched in communities throughout the nation, and gang-related violence and drug trafficking became fully ingrained in suburban areas throughout the 1990s. Because of the significant levels of violence attendant to gang-related criminal activity, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials devoted significant resources to fight gun crime and to disrupt the most violent gangs. This crackdown on violent gang activity targeted key gang leaders in an effort to dismantle highly structured gangs. In conjunction with this crackdown, federal law enforcement officials began to target violent gang members from Mexico and Central America, most of whom were in the United States illegally. Moreover, a large number of gang members in prison formed into associations along ethnic lines during this time in an attempt to protect their operations, giving rise to large, influential prison gangs. As these gang members were released from prison, they maintained contact with gang leaders in prison and used their influence to control street gangs in urban and suburban areas.

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Gang Criminal Activity

Gangs often introduce heightened levels of violent crime and retail-level drug distribution in suburban communities to which they migrate. Gangs are responsible for a large number of violent crimes committed each year throughout the country. From 2002 through 2006, gangs were implicated in approximately 900 homicides per year in the United States, according to supplemental data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Report (UCR). Law enforcement officials report that many gang-related homicides occur in suburban locations. For example, during 2007 law enforcement officials in Irvington, New Jersey, a suburb of Newark, reported 23 homicides--20 of which were believed to be gang-related. In 2008 six homicides have been reported thus far in Irvington; three are believed to be gang-related. Members of national-level gangs such as Bloods, Ņeta, Mara Salvatrucha, and Latin Kings have been linked to a number of these homicides.

Most gang-related homicides, according to reporting law enforcement officials, result from a gang's attempt to expand activities into another gang's territory. For instance, the Tampa, Florida, Police Department and Hillsborough County, Florida, Sheriff's Office are contending with an increase in weapons-related gang violence in their jurisdictions, including drive-by shootings. The violence is the result of locally affiliated Bloods and Crips gangs protecting their drug distribution locations from Sureņos 13 and Latin King members who are migrating into the area from Miami and attempting to establish drug trafficking operations. In addition to violence perpetrated by Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, and Sureņos 13 gang members, officers with the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office must deal with the criminal activities of approximately 1,000 members of other gangs operating in their areas (see Appendix E, Map 9).

Gang members typically act in concert, planning violent criminal activity to advance their reputation, protect their territory, or expand their operations. Also, gang members sometimes arbitrarily commit random acts of violence. For example, members of Florencia 13 in South Los Angeles indiscriminately shot innocent African American citizens during 2007 in an effort to intimidate rival African American gangs. Additionally, Sureņos 13 members in Whitfield County, Georgia, and the city of Dalton, Georgia, randomly targeted buildings and vehicles in drive-by shootings, presumably to intimidate local communities. Moreover, planned criminal activities perpetrated by gangs have led to the victimization of many innocent bystanders. In 2007 a shoot-out between rival gang members in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, resulted in an 8-year-old girl being seriously wounded by crossfire.

Gangs dominate retail-level drug distribution and increasingly are becoming involved in wholesale-level drug trafficking. According to the 2007 NDTS, gangs are involved in drug distribution in every state in the country, principally in urban and suburban areas, but also in rural communities (see Appendix E, Map 2). Moreover, NDTS trend data reveal a 13 percent increase between 2003 and 2007 in the number of law enforcement agencies reporting drug distribution by street gangs in their jurisdictions. NDTS trend data further reveal that the primary drug distributed by gangs is marijuana, followed by powder cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy), and diverted pharmaceuticals.

In conducting criminal operations, gang members in urban areas often travel to suburban locations to engage in criminal activity and then return to their home locations. Suburban communities located near interstates and major highways are more prone to this type of gang activity. For instance, gang members from the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, metropolitan area5 reportedly travel by vehicle to outlying suburban communities, including those in Dallas and Tarrant Counties, to conduct retail drug distribution. They return to their home locations when their drug supplies are exhausted. Additionally, gangs with a nexus to Dallas/Fort Worth have established subsets and chapters in a number of suburban communities that they initially targeted through such transient methods (see Appendix E, Map 10).

End Note

5. The Dallas/Fort Worth area is home to more than 500 gangs with between 8,000 and 10,000 gang members; Hispanic and Asian gangs are dominant. Hispanic street, prison, and outlaw motorcycle gangs active in the area include Latin Kings, Tango Blasters, Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, and East Side Homeboys. Asian street gangs operating in the area include Tiny Rascal Gangsters and Asian Boyz.

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