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Gangs are present in every state and U.S. territory and some particularly violent urban gangs have expanded from inner cities to suburban and some rural areas. Gangs increasingly represent a threat to many smaller communities, and they control most retail-level drug distribution nationally. Gangs are also increasing their involvement in wholesale-level drug distribution.

There are no precise estimates regarding total gang membership and the number of active gangs in the United States. However, in 2006 the National Youth Gang Center estimated that there were approximately 785,000 active street gang members in the United States. Analysis of 2008 law enforcement survey data and reporting supports the 2006 findings--and, in fact, 2008 data indicate that the total number of gang members of all ages may be significantly higher. Moreover, state department of corrections data show that as of May 2008 approximately 123,000 documented street and prison gang members were incarcerated in state correctional facilities.25 BOP data show that in August 2008, 24,163 of 201,000 inmates in federal prisons were identified as individuals affiliated with a Security Threat Group,26 including gangs.

NDTS data for 2008 indicate that gang influence over drug trafficking in the United States is stable or increasing slightly. According to 2008 NDTS data, 58 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country report that street gangs are active in drug trafficking in their areas, an increase from 2006 (55%) and stable since 2007 (58%). NDTS data also show that the percentage of agencies reporting OMG involvement in drug trafficking in their areas also remained relatively stable from 2006 (35%) to 2007 (36%) to 2008 (36%).

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Strategic Findings

Gangs are becoming increasingly involved in wholesale-level drug trafficking, aided by their connections with drug trafficking organizations, particularly Mexican and Asian DTOs. Gangs are active in drug distribution, particularly at the retail level, throughout the United States, and their involvement in drug distribution at the wholesale level is increasing. According to law enforcement reporting and survey data, gangs are involved in drug distribution, primarily at the retail level, in every state in the country, particularly in urban and suburban areas but also in many rural communities. NDTS data show that marijuana is the drug most commonly distributed by gangs, followed by powder cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, MDMA, and diverted pharmaceuticals, respectively.

Many gangs have recently expanded their influence over drug distribution to include more wholesale distribution. Gangs have developed or strengthened relationships with transnational criminal organizations and DTOs, gaining access to international sources of supply for larger shipments of illicit drugs that they then distribute. Mexican drug traffickers affiliated with the Sinaloa, Gulf, Juárez, and Tijuana Cartels27 maintain working relationships with at least 20 street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs (see Table 5) that operate in urban and suburban communities throughout the country. These affiliations have significantly increased the availability of illicit drugs in many of these areas. Moreover, several Asian criminal organizations and DTOs work closely with at least eight Asian street gangs that operate within suburban locales (see Table 6).

Table 5. Gangs Affiliated with the Sinaloa, Gulf, Juárez, or Tijuana Cartels

18th Street Latin Kings
Bandidos Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)
Barrió Azteca Mexican Mafia
Black Guerilla Family Mexikanemi
Bloods Mongols
Crips Norteños
Florencia 13 Sureños
Gangster Disciples Tango Blast
Hells Angels Texas Syndicate
Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos Vagos

Source: Federal, state, and local law enforcement reporting.

Table 6. Asian Gangs Affiliated With Asian DTOs

Asian Boyz Flying Dragons
Asian Warriors Tiny Rascal Gangsters
Black Dragons Vietnam
Black Star Wah Ching

Source: Federal, state, and local law enforcement reporting.

Gangs are increasingly conducting criminal activity across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders. Gangs smuggle drugs, firearms, and aliens across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders. Most gang-related criminal activity along the U.S.-Mexico border occurs in South Texas and California. Several regional- and national-level gangs operate in the Del Rio/Eagle Pass, Laredo, and Lower Rio Grande Valley areas of South Texas. Street and prison gangs such as Mexikanemi (Texas Mexican Mafia), Tri-City Bombers, Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, and Texas Syndicate transport and distribute illicit drugs throughout the South Texas area. Some of these gangs have established associate gangs or chapters in border cities in Mexico, according to law enforcement reporting. A number of gangs based in San Diego and Los Angeles also conduct cross-border smuggling operations. Street and prison gangs such as Sureños 13, 18th Street, and Mexican Mafia (La Eme) maintain significant influence over most of the local suburban and rural gangs in San Diego and Los Angeles. These gangs work very closely with Mexican DTOs located in Tijuana, Mexico, to smuggle drugs and illegal aliens into the United States.

Gangs pose a growing problem for law enforcement along the U.S.-Canada border, particularly the border areas in the New England and Pacific Regions. Members of several regional- and national-level gangs, including Asian Boyz, Hells Angels, and Outlaws, smuggle large quantities of illicit drugs across the U.S.-Canada border in New England; they often conduct their smuggling operations in association with members of transnational criminal and drug trafficking organizations. According to law enforcement officials in the Pacific Region, members of several regional- and national-level gangs, particularly Hells Angels, engage in cross-border criminal activity in their jurisdictions.

End Notes

25. The number of incarcerated prisoners affiliated with gangs is most likely underestimated, since most state correctional facilities document only gang members who pose a threat to institutional security. Further, some state correctional facilities do not collect and/or report information on the gang affiliation of inmates.
26. Security Threat Groups are defined by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as groups, gangs, or inmate organizations that have been observed acting in concert to promote violence, escape, and drug or terrorist activity.
27. The Sinaloa Cartel is composed of drug trafficking organizations run by Joaquín Gúzman-Loera, Ismael Zambada-García, and Ignacio Coronel-Villareal. The Gulf Cartel, which was led by the now-extradited Osiel Cárdenas-Guillén, has passed its leadership on to Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano and Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sánchez. Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes continues to lead the Juárez Cartel, and the Arellano-Félix family maintains substantial influence over the Tijuana Cartel.

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