Gangs, Juvenile delinquency prevention

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
December 2001
Hybrid and Other
Modern Gangs

A Message From OJJDP
Gangs have changed significantly
from the images portrayed in West
Side Story and similar stereotypical
David Starbuck, James C. Howell,
depictions. Although newly emerging
and Donna J. Lindquist
youth gangs frequently take on the
names of older traditional gangs, the
The proliferation of youth gangs since 1980
same methods of operation as traditional
similarities often end there.
has fueled the public’s fear and magnified
gangs such as the Bloods and Crips (based
This Bulletin describes the nature of
possible misconceptions about youth gangs.
in Los Angeles, CA) or the Black Gangster
modern youth gangs, in particular,
To address the mounting concern about
Disciples and Vice Lords (based in Chicago,
hybrid gangs. Hybrid gang culture is
youth gangs, the Office of Juvenile Justice
IL). These older gangs tend to have an age-
characterized by mixed racial and
and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP’s)
graded structure of subgroups or cliques.
ethnic participation within a single
Youth Gang Series delves into many of the
The two Chicago gangs have produced or-
gang, participation in multiple gangs
key issues related to youth gangs. The
ganizational charts and explicit rules of
by a single individual, vague rules and
series considers issues such as gang migra-
conduct and regulations, including detailed
codes of conduct for gang members,
tion, gang growth, female involvement with
punishments for breaking gang rules (Sper-
use of symbols and colors from
gangs, homicide, drugs and violence, and
gel, 1995:81). They have developed coali-
multiple—even rival—gangs, collabo-
the needs of communities and youth who
tions with other gangs, forming what are
ration by rival gangs in criminal activi-
live in the presence of youth gangs.
called gang “nations,” such as Folks (in-
ties, and the merger of smaller gangs
cluding the Black Gangster Disciples) and
into larger ones. Thus, hybrid gang
“Hybrid” youth gangs1 have existed in the
People (including the Vice Lords).
customs are clearly distinguished from
United States at least since the 1920s
the practices of their predecessors.
(Thrasher, 1927). Early hybrid gangs were
Although many communities have gangs
described mainly as mixed-race or mixed-
that bear the names of earlier gangs that
The Bulletin draws on survey data,
research findings, and field reports
ethnicity gangs; modern-day hybrid gangs,
originated in Los Angeles and Chicago, the
to detail these critical differences,
however, have more diverse characteris-
actual membership of these newer gangs
reviewing such issues as gang
tics. “Hybrid gang culture” is character-
is often locally based and has little or no
stereotypes and gang migration in
ized by members of different racial/ethnic
real national affiliation. These hybrids—
the process.
groups participating in a single gang, indi-
new gangs that may have the names but
viduals participating in multiple gangs, un-
not the other characteristics of older
If law enforcement agencies are to
clear rules or codes of conduct, symbolic
gangs—are one of the new types of gangs
effectively address the problems
associations with more than one well-
most frequently found in communities
posed by newly emerging youth
established gang (e.g., use of colors and
that had no gang culture prior to the
gangs, they must understand the
graffiti from different gangs), cooperation
1980s or 1990s. Because gangs, gang cul-
differences that distinguish them from
of rival gangs in criminal activity, and fre-
ture, and gang-related activities are dynam-
the stereotypical concept of traditional
quent mergers of small gangs.
ic, affected communities need to recognize
gangs. The information provided in
the new faces of these groups and avoid
this Bulletin should contribute to that
As the new millennium begins, hybrid
popularly held, media-influenced miscon-
gangs are flourishing and their changing
ceptions (see Best and Hutchinson, 1996;
nature is making it more difficult to study
Decker, Bynum, and Weisel, 1998; Fernan-
and respond to them. Today, many gangs
dez, 1998; Fleisher, 1995, 1998; Klein, 1995;
do not follow the same rules or use the
Miethe and McCorkle, 1997; McCorkle and
Miethe, 1998).

The public continues to perceive youth
gangs and gang members in terms of the
media stereotype of the California Crips
and Bloods rather than in terms of current
scientific data (Klein, 1995:40–43, 112–135).
Some jurisdictions may erroneously adapt
a response that is appropriate for well-
publicized Los Angeles or Chicago gang
problems but not for gang issues in their
own jurisdictions (Miethe and McCorkle,
1997). For example, misreading local gangs
as drug trafficking enterprises rather than
neighborhood conflict groups could ren-
der interventions ineffective. Because the
characteristics of local gangs and their
criminal involvement may differ from the
features of gangs in distant cities, different
strategies may be required to address the
local gang problem effectively.
This Bulletin addresses youth gangs in the
21st century by considering what consti-
counties (Egley, 2000; Howell, Moore, and
Winfree, 1999; Fleisher, 1998; Miller, J.A.,
tutes a hybrid gang, whether gangs and
Egley, forthcoming). The average year of
2001). For example, 92 percent of gang
individual members are migrating across
gang problem onset was 1989 for large
youth in one student survey (Esbensen,
the country, and how new coalitions such
cities, 1990 for suburban counties, 1992
Deschenes, and Winfree, 1999:42) said
as hybrid gangs differ from stereotypical
for small cities, and 1993 for rural coun-
both boys and girls belonged to their gang.
and traditional gangs. The Bulletin brings
ties (National Youth Gang Center, 1999).
together survey data, recent research re-
Gangs in suburban areas, small towns, and
The localities reporting later onset of gang
sults, and firsthand reports from the field
rural areas show more membership diver-
problems are most likely to be in rural
to examine today’s gangs and their mem-
sity than gangs in large cities. Gangs in
counties, small cities, and suburban coun-
bers. For reports from the field, the Bul-
these areas have more racially/ethnically
ties with populations of less than 50,000
letin draws heavily on insights shared by
mixed membership (National Youth Gang
(Howell, Egley, and Gleason, forthcoming).
author David Starbuck, formerly a Sergeant
Center, 2000:22–23) and include more fe-
in the Kansas City Police Department’s
Gangs are also becoming commonplace in
males, Caucasians, and younger members
Gang Unit, whose contributions are incor-
institutions, including schools, that had
than gangs in larger cities (Curry, 2000;
porated throughout the Bulletin, especially
been considered safe havens. For many
Howell, Egley, and Gleason, forthcoming).
in the sidebars that give the law enforce-
students, school has become a gathering
ment practitioner’s point of view.
place for gangs. More than one-third (37
percent) of a nationally representative
The broad range of modern or contempo-
Although a fixed definition has not been
sample of students reported gang presence
rary gangs, as depicted in research studies
established, youth gangs are often pre-
in their schools in 1995, a 100-percent in-
and survey data, is discussed in the first
sumed to be highly organized groups that
crease over 1989 (Howell and Lynch, 2000).
section of this Bulletin. The growth of mod-
engage in some level of criminal activity.
Gang presence is being reported even in
ern gangs provides a social context for the
Several studies challenge the notion that
the military (Hasenauer, 1996).
emergence of hybrid gangs. Hybrid gangs
youth gangs are highly organized. Decker
are discussed in the second section, and
and colleagues (1998) compared the two
Member Diversity
conclusions and policy implications are
most highly organized gangs (as reported
highlighted in the final section.
Although many gangs continue to be based
by police) in Chicago, IL, and San Diego,
on race or ethnicity, gangs are increasingly
CA. They found that the Chicago gangs
diverse in racial/ethnic composition. Law
were far more organized than the San
Characteristics of
enforcement agencies responding to the
Diego gangs but levels of organization
Modern Youth Gangs
1998 National Youth Gang Survey estimat-
were not necessarily linked to increased
ed that more than one-third (36 percent)
involvement in crime (Decker, Bynum, and
of youth gangs had a significant mixture of
Weisel, 1998:408). Their observation that
two or more racial/ethnic groups (Nation-
Once a problem primarily in large cities,
the San Diego gangs were disorganized mir-
al Youth Gang Center, 2000). Small cities
youth gangs are now present in suburbs,
rors Sanders’ (1994) findings. Other stud-
had the largest proportion of gangs with
small towns, and rural areas (Miller, W.B.,
ies have questioned the extent of youth
mixed race/ethnicity. The Midwest had a
2001). In 1999, law enforcement agencies
gang organization in emerging gang cities
larger proportion of mixed gangs than any
reported active youth gangs in 100 per-
such as Denver, CO (Esbensen, Huizinga,
other region.
cent of the Nation’s largest cities (those
and Weiher, 1993); Cleveland and Colum-
with populations of 250,000 or more), 47
bus, OH (Huff, 1996, 1998); Kansas City,
Recent student surveys and field studies
percent of suburban counties, 27 percent
MO (Fleisher, 1998); Milwaukee, WI (Hage-
of local gangs also report significant gen-
of small cities (those with populations
dorn, 1988); Pittsburgh, PA (Klein, 1995);
der mixtures (Esbensen, Deschenes, and
below 25,000), and 18 percent of rural
San Francisco, CA (Waldorf, 1993); Seattle,

WA (Fleisher, 1995); and St. Louis, MO
a sense of “legitimacy” to new groups, but
crimes than gang members in early-onset
(Decker and Van Winkle, 1996; Decker and
the context of the new localities may pro-
localities. For example, about 8 in 10 gang
Curry, 2000).
duce adaptations that lead to divergence
members in localities with the earliest on-
from the traditional patterns. Data from
set of gang problems (before 1986) were
Modern youth gangs are generally less ter-
the 1996 National Youth Gang Survey show
said to use firearms in assault crimes
ritory based than gangs of the past (Klein,
that nearly 9 in 10 (87 percent) of the lo-
“often” or “sometimes,” compared with
1995; Miller, 1992; National Youth Gang
calities reporting gang problems said that
fewer than 3 in 10 gang members in locali-
Center, 2000). In the older gang cities and
onset occurred during the 1986–96 period
ties with the latest onset (1995–96).
the Southwest, gangs traditionally were
(National Youth Gang Center, 1999). An
tied strongly to their neighborhoods or
analysis of National Youth Gang Center
A comparison of drug trafficking patterns
barrios. The Mexican-American “turf gang”
(NYGC) survey data on early onset (be-
in areas with early and late onset of gang
pattern, transmitted across generations
fore 1990) versus late onset (during the
problems found that both gang member
and ethnicities, has given way to autono-
1990s) localities (Howell, Egley, and Glea-
involvement in drug sales and gang con-
mous gangs as the predominant pattern
son, forthcoming) found that gangs in the
trol of drug distribution were much less
(Klein, 1995:102). These autonomous gangs
newer gang-problem localities were dis-
likely to be significant problems in juris-
consist of single, named groups occupying
tinctly different in their demographic
dictions where gang problems emerged
smaller territories and may be based in a
characteristics from traditional gangs in
in the past decade (Howell and Gleason,
neighborhood, a public housing project,
jurisdictions where gang problems began
1999). In the newer gang problem locali-
or another community location (such as
much earlier. Gangs in late-onset localities
ties, gang control of drug distribution was
a schoolyard or shopping mall).
had younger members, slightly more fe-
less likely to be extensive than was gang
Some gang research in the 1960s suggest-
males, more Caucasians, and more of a
member involvement in drug sales.
ed that youngsters were pressured to join
racial/ethnic mixture. Caucasians were the
Gang member involvement in drug sales
gangs by peers who used strong-arm tac-
predominant racial/ethnic group in the
was less extensive in the oldest gang juris-
tics (Yablonsky, 1967). Community (adult)
latest onset (1995–96) localities. Gangs in
dictions (onset of gang problems before
representatives view peer pressure to join
localities where gang problems began in
1980) than in jurisdictions where onset
gangs as irresistible (Decker and Kempf-
the 1990s also tended to have a much larg-
occurred between 1981 and 1990 (Howell
Leonard, 1991). However, it is not as diffi-
er proportion of middle-class teens.
and Gleason, 1999). Gang member involve-
cult for adolescents to resist gang pres-
Gang members in late-onset localities also
ment in drug sales was most extensive in
sures as is commonly believed. In most
were far less likely to be involved in vio-
jurisdictions with onset between 1981 and
instances, adolescents can refuse to join
lent crimes (homicide, aggravated assault,
1985 and then decreased consistently in
gangs without reprisal (Decker and Kempf-
robbery, and use of firearms) and property
subsequent onset periods through
Leonard, 1991; Fleisher, 1995; Huff, 1998;
Maxson, Whitlock, and Klein, 1998).
Perpetuating the myth of lifetime member-
Practitioner’s View: The Challenges of Hybrid Gangs
ship helps sustain a gang, because the
group’s viability depends on the ability of
Law enforcement officers from communities unaffected by gangs until the 1980s or
active members to maintain the percep-
early 1990s often find themselves scrambling to obtain training relevant to hybrid
tion that leaving the gang is nearly impos-
gangs. When gang-related training first became widely available in the early 1990s,
sible (Decker and Lauritsen, 1996:114).
it often emphasized historical information, such as the formation of the Los Ange-
The reality is that members (especially
les Crips and Bloods in the late 1960s or the legacy of Chicago-based gangs (the
marginal members) typically can leave a
Black Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, and Vice Lords). As law enforcement offi-
gang without serious consequences (Deck-
cers learned about the origins of these influential gangs, they sometimes attempt-
er and Lauritsen, 1996; Decker and Van
ed to apply this outdated information in their efforts to deal with hybrid gangs in
Winkle, 1996; Fleisher, 1995). In fact, most
their jurisdictions. The assumption that new gangs share the characteristics of
older gangs can impede law enforcement’s attempts to identify and effectively
adolescents do not remain in gangs for
counter local street gangs, and actions based on this assumption often elicit inap-
long periods of time—particularly in areas
propriate responses from the community as a whole. Citizens may react negatively
with emerging gang problems. Studies in
to law enforcement efforts when they sense that gang suppression actions are
three cities that developed gang problems
geared to a more serious gang problem than local gangs appear to present.
fairly recently—Denver, CO; Rochester, NY;
and Seattle, WA—show that from 54 to 69
Because of uncertainty in reporting on problem groups such as “cliques,” “crews,”
percent of adolescents who joined gangs
“posses,” and other nontraditional collectives that may be hybrid gangs, some po-
in the three cities stayed in them for 1
lice department staff spend an inordinate amount of time trying to precisely cate-
year or less and 9 to 21 percent belonged
gorize local groups according to definitions of traditional gangs. When training law
for 3 years or more (Thornberry, 1998).
enforcement groups on investigative issues surrounding drug trafficking or street
gangs, instructors must resist the tendency to connect gangs in different cities just
because the gangs share a common name. If the groups engage in ongoing crimi-
Onset of Local Gang
nal activity and alarm community members, law enforcement officers should focus
on the criminal activity, regardless of the ideological beliefs or identifiers (i.e., name,
It appears that the emergence of gangs in
symbols, and group colors) of the suspects. This practical approach would circum-
new localities2 in the 10-year period 1986–
vent the frustration that results from trying to pigeonhole hybrid gangs into narrow
96 has contributed to the growth of hybrid
categories and would avoid giving undue attention to gangs that want to be recog-
gangs. For example, the use of names and
nized as nationwide crime syndicates.
symbols of traditional gangs may provide

1995–96. Thus, gang members in the
newest gang problem jurisdictions were
Practitioner’s View: Gang Migration and Hybrid
much less likely to be involved in drug
Gangs in Kansas City
sales than gang members in jurisdictions
where gang problems began during the
Gangs began moving into the Midwest in the early 1980s, with Kansas City, MO,
early to mid-1980s.
emerging as a textbook example of a locality experiencing gang migration. Locat-
ed in almost the geographical center of the continental United States, Kansas City
has approximately 5,000 documented gang members and affiliates and numerous
Gang Stereotypes
Chicago- and California-style gangs in the metropolitan area.1 No single group has
The characteristics of modern gangs con-
achieved dominance.
trast sharply with the stereotypical image
The Kansas City Police Department’s Drug Enforcement Unit first encountered
of gangs that emerged in the 1980s and
gang migration while investigating a new wave of drug entrepreneurs in the 1980s.
continues to predominate. From the 1920s
By 1988, these trafficking suspects included confirmed members of the Crips and
through the 1970s, gang members were
Bloods sets (subgroups) from the Los Angeles, CA, area. As the presence of the
characterized mainly as young (11–22
Crips and Bloods became increasingly pronounced in Kansas City, other law en-
years old) Hispanic or African American
forcement agencies in the Midwest began sharing similar gang intelligence infor-
males who lived in lower class ghetto or
mation. Suddenly, Los Angeles Crips and Bloods were known to be dealing cocaine
barrio sections of the inner city (Klein,
in most major midwestern cities, including Des Moines, IA; Minneapolis, MN;
1995; Miller, 1992; Spergel, 1995). In that
Oklahoma City, OK; Omaha, NE; and Wichita, KS. By 1990, the arrival of Chicago-
period, gangs usually were viewed as ra-
based gang members in Kansas City was also confirmed through routine investi-
cially and ethnically homogeneous, spon-
gations of drug trafficking and homicides.
taneously organized, and authoritatively
controlled fighting groups (Miller, 1992).
Although Kansas City has experienced gang migration, the area’s larger gangs
continue to be locally based hybrids that may not have any affiliations with migrant
Classic “rumbles” historically were the
gang members. These groups exemplify the evolving modern gangs that are now
major form of gang fighting, but they gave
increasingly common throughout the United States, particularly in suburban areas,
way in the 1970s to forays by small armed
small cities, and rural communities. In the past decade or more, Kansas City’s
and motorized bands. Most gang violence
hybrid gang members have adopted traditional gang culture, modified it with person-
was motivated by honor or local turf de-
al interpretations and agendas, and become much more of a criminal and societal
fense and, to a lesser extent, control over
problem to the community than any of the groups that have migrated into the area.
facilities and areas and economic gain
(Miller, 1992:118). Gang violence was not a
For example, in two sections of Kansas City, two different gangs operate as the
major social concern (Klein, 1969).
Athens Park Boys (APB). These groups share the name with the original Athens
Park Boys, a well-established Bloods set originating in Los Angeles County. Al-
In the mid- to late 1980s, this predominant
though both of the Kansas City APB gangs engage in criminal activities and anti-
gang stereotype was modified significantly
social behavior, they have no connection other than the shared name: one set is
by a California study in which researchers
composed of African American teens on the east side of the city, and the other
contended that the two major Los Angeles
consists of Caucasian teens, primarily from affluent families in the suburbs. Each
gangs, the Crips and Bloods, had become
group seems to be unaware of its Kansas City counterpart, and neither set is con-
highly organized and entrepreneurial and
nected to APB in California or any other jurisdiction. Because of their increasing
were expanding their drug markets to
membership and unique characteristics and culture, hybrid gangs (like Kansas
other cities (Skolnick et al., 1988). Where
City’s APBs) warrant further examination.
these drug operations appeared, presum-
ably, so did violent crime.
1 According to 2000 U.S. Census projections, the total population of Kansas City, MO, is 443,277 and the
population of the Kansas City metropolitan area is approximately 1.2 million.
Gang Migration
The expanded presence of gangs is often
blamed on the relocation of members from
members had migrated from another juris-
the relocation of young people from
one city to another, which is called gang
diction to the one in which they were re-
central cities (Egley, 2000). Thus, the dis-
migration. Some gangs are very transient
siding (Egley, 2000). Although gang migra-
persion of the urban population to less
and conduct their activities on a national
tion is stereotypically attributed to illegal
populated areas contributed to the prolif-
basis. However, the sudden appearance of
activities such as drug franchising, expan-
eration of gangs in suburban areas, small
Rollin’ 60s Crips graffiti in a public park in
sion of criminal enterprises is not the prin-
towns, and rural areas.
rural Iowa, for example, does not neces-
cipal driving force behind migration (Max-
sarily mean that the Los Angeles gang has
Law enforcement professionals may not be
son, 1998). The most common reasons for
set up a chapter in the community. Gang
able to differentiate among local gangs that
migration are social considerations affect-
names are frequently copied, adopted, or
have adopted names of the same well-
ing individual gang members, including
passed on. In most instances, there is lit-
known gangs from other locales but have
family relocation to improve the quality of
tle or no real connection between local
no real connection with each other until
life or to be near relatives and friends.
groups with the same name other than
they begin to interact with gang members
Moreover, in the 1999 National Youth Gang
the name itself (Valdez, 2000:344).
through interviews, debriefings, and other
Survey, the vast majority (83 percent) of
contacts. “Hybrid” versions will begin to
Gang migration does occur, however. Ac-
law enforcement respondents agreed that
display variations of the original gang, such
cording to the 1999 National Youth Gang
the appearance of gang members outside
as giving different reasons for opposing
Survey, 18 percent of all youth gang
of large cities in the 1990s was caused by

rival gangs or displaying certain colors.
x Gang members may change their affil-
themselves with a local gang that has
Investigators who take the time to cross-
iation from one gang to another.
no ties to their original gang.
check their local gang intelligence with that
x It is not uncommon for a gang member
x Members of rival gangs from Chicago
of other agencies concerning gangs with
to claim multiple affiliations, sometimes
or Los Angeles frequently cooperate in
identical names are likely to find some sub-
involving rival gangs. For example, in
criminal activity in other parts of the
tle and some glaring differences.
Kansas City, MO, police may encounter
an admitted Blood gang member who
Youth often “cut and paste” bits of Holly-
Emerging Information
is also known in the St. Louis, MO, area
wood’s media images and big-city gang
as a member of the Black Gangster
on Hybrid Gangs
lore into new local versions of nationally
Disciples gang.
known gangs with which they may claim
Hybrid gangs are more frequently encoun-
x Existing gangs may change their names
affiliation. Other hybrids are homegrown
tered in communities in which gang prob-
or suddenly merge with other gangs to
and consider themselves to be distinct
lems emerged during the 1990s than in
form new ones.
entities with no alliance to groups such
localities that reported onset of gang
as the Bloods/Crips or Folks/People. Be-
problems in the 1980s. According to law
x Although many gangs continue to be
cause these independent gangs can be
enforcement respondents in the 1998 Na-
based on race/ethnicity, many of them
the most difficult to classify, they fre-
tional Youth Gang Survey, gangs with a
are increasingly diverse in both race/
quently pose the biggest problems for
significant mixture of two or more racial/
ethnicity and gender. Seemingly strange
local law enforcement.
ethnic groups represent a larger propor-
associations may form, such as between
tion of all reported gangs in localities that
Skinheads, whose members frequently
Migrating gang members appear to have
said their gang problem began in the 1990s
espouse racist rhetoric, and Crips,
contributed to the growth of hybrid youth
(Howell, Moore, and Egley, forthcoming).
whose members are predominantly
gangs in newer gang problem localities in
A more specific question was asked about
African American.
the 1990s. Migrant gang members may act
hybrid gangs in the 1999 survey. The sur-
x Gang members who relocate from
as cultural carriers of the folkways, myth-
vey questionnaire noted: “Some contend
California to the Midwest may align
ologies, and other trappings of more so-
that there are youth gangs ‘that don’t fit
phisticated urban gangs (Maxson, 1998:3).
the mold’ of any particular gang category.
These gangs may have several of the fol-
lowing characteristics: a mixture of racial/
ethnic groups, male and female members,
Practitioner’s View: Gang Trends in the Midwest
display symbols and graffiti of different
Hybrid gangs are particularly prevalent in the Midwest region of the United States.
gangs, or have members who sometimes
Three features of the Midwest hybrid gangs are troublesome for law enforcement
switch from one gang to another.” Re-
officers: new alignments the hybrid gangs may make, Hispanic gang patterns, and
spondents were asked if they had gangs
Asian gang criminal activity.
that fit this description. Six in ten respon-
dents (61 percent) said they had such
New alignments. Los Angeles gang members relocating to the Midwest may align
themselves with a local gang that has no real ties to the California member’s origi-
gangs. However, the average number of
nal gang set. In certain cases, gang members relocating from Chicago or Los An-
such gangs in a given locality—four—
geles conduct criminal activity in cooperation with their former rivals. For example,
is small (Howell, Moore, and Egley,
a recent Kansas City investigation identified multiple defendants in a drug traffick-
ing operation. Checking the suspects’ backgrounds through Los Angeles law en-
Hybrid gangs tend to have the following
forcement files, investigators discovered that some of the defendants were affiliated
nontraditional features:
with the 135 Compton Pirus Bloods, and others were affiliated with the rival Los
Angeles gang, the 5 Deuce Hoover Crips. This coalition surprised investigators in
x They may or may not have an allegiance
Los Angeles, but cooperation often occurs when drug alliances form in “neutral”
to a traditional gang color. In fact, much
parts of the country, such as the Midwest. Frequently, profit potential outweighs
of the hybrid gang graffiti in the United
traditional gang loyalties.
States is a composite of multiple gangs
Hispanic gang patterns. Factions of Hispanic gangs are becoming increasingly
with conflicting symbols. For example,
prominent in much of the United States, including the Midwest. It is crucial for law
Crip gang graffiti painted in red (the
enforcement to know the origins and rivalries of Hispanic gangs, including the Sur-
color used by the rival Blood gang)
enos, Nortenos, and Sinaloan Cowboys, because officers increasingly encounter
would be unheard of in California but
these and other factions. Transient Hispanic gangs may continue their animosity
have occurred elsewhere in the hybrid
with rivals in other parts of the country and engage in violent encounters with local
gang culture.
Hispanic gangs. This phenomenon is more common with Hispanic gangs than with
x Local gangs may adopt the symbols of
other types of gangs. Hispanic gang members tend to be more loyal and tradition-
large gangs in more than one city. For
al in supporting their gang, even when in transit or when relocating to other parts
example, a locally based gang named
of the country.
after the Los Angeles Bloods may also
Asian gang criminal activity. In the Midwest, Asian gang criminal activity, much
use symbols from the Chicago People
of which is perpetrated by transient gangs, continues to have a great impact. Prob-
Nation, such as five-pointed stars and
lems for law enforcement include cultural misunderstandings, identification issues,
downward-pointed pitchforks.
language barriers, and the transient nature of these gangs (who travel out of
State to commit crimes).

Movies and “gangsta” lyrics also have con-
of gangs and gang culture can confuse con-
x Provision of opportunities.
tributed to the proliferation of bits and
cerned agencies, including those in the
x Suppression/social control.
pieces of gang culture. Law enforcement
juvenile and criminal justice systems, as
agencies began to notice hybrid gangs
they struggle to separate gangs into neat
x Organizational change and
after one such gang was depicted in the
categories that often do not exist. It is vi-
movie Colors (Valdez, 2000:13). Gang mi-
tally important for law enforcement to con-
The model is multifaceted and multi-
gration, movies, and gangsta music work
centrate on gang-related criminal activity
layered, involving the individual youth,
together to introduce local gangs to large-
rather than on more ephemeral aspects of
the family, the gang structure, local agen-
city gang culture. The lack of an existing
gang affiliation or demographics.
cies, and the community. NYGC (2001b)
gang culture allows for modification and
has prepared a planning guide to assist
When addressing local gang problems,
adaptation of the culture of urban gangs.
communities in developing a plan to im-
communities need to understand ongoing
plement OJJDP’s Comprehensive Gang
A field study of the Fremont Hustlers in
changes in the Nation’s gang dynamics,
Kansas City, MO, illustrates a unique form
provide and participate in updated gang-
of hybrid gang (Fleisher, 1998). The gang
related training, and monitor the specific
had no written set of rules, no member-
gangs and associated cultures within their
ship requirements, and no leader or hier-
own jurisdictions. Unfortunately, one thing
archy that might pull all 72 members into
has not changed with the advent of the
Although hybrid gangs are not new to the
a coherent organization. By hanging out
hybrid gang. There is no universal formula
United States, they clearly have flourished
and establishing ties with Fremont Hus-
for a patently successful response, and
in the past decade. This Bulletin stresses
tlers, an outsider is slowly assimilated
what works in one city may have little im-
the “culture” of modern hybrid gangs. This
into the gang’s social life (Fleisher, 1998:
pact in another. An effective strategy must
concept means that they are character-
39). Fremont gang youth did not use the
be based on an accurate assessment of
ized by more than simply a mixture of age,
term “member”; their closest expression
the local problem, updated information
gender, and racial/ethnic membership—
was “down with Fremont” (Fleisher, 1998:
about local gang activities, an examination
although the diverse membership of gangs
41). Because the Fremont Hustlers was not
of resources in the community, and a real-
in newer gang problem localities certainly
a cohesive organization and youth did not
istic appraisal of how to gauge the impact
contributes to a wide diversity of gang
talk about the group’s structure or opera-
of the response. As many agencies as pos-
forms. The hybrid gang culture sharply
tion, the gang structure was difficult to
sible, particularly local government and
distinguishes modern gangs from tradition-
recognize at first. In the study, Fremont
police administration, must be included
al gangs. Modern hybrid gangs do not op-
gang youth said they were Folks, but they
early in the process of developing a strat-
erate by traditional gang rules. Their affili-
did not know why, except that they liked
egy for gang prevention and intervention.
ation with gangs based in Chicago or Los
to draw the pitchfork symbol used by the
The more resources and partners that are
Angeles is likely to be in name only. They
Folks (Fleisher, 1998:26). Fleisher described
involved, especially those with authority
tend to “cut and paste” gang culture from
this gang as “a haphazardly assembled
to respond directly to gangs, the greater
traditional gangs, and they may display
social unit composed of deviant adoles-
a community’s chances for success.
symbols traditionally associated with sev-
cents who shared social and economic
eral gangs. They may form alliances with
All jurisdictions experiencing gang prob-
needs and the propensity for resolving
rival gangs to carry out criminal activity,
lems need to assess their problems care-
those needs in a similar way” (1998:264).
but their independent mode of operating
fully in light of the gang characteristics re-
makes them difficult for law enforcement
viewed in this Bulletin. NYGC (2001a) has
to classify. Thus, it is very important for
Policy and Program
developed a protocol that communities
law enforcement agencies to recognize the
can use to guide the assessment of their
diverse gang culture of hybrid gangs, to
gang problem. This assessment protocol is
approach them without any preconceived
To devise an appropriate response to hy-
applicable in communities of all sizes and
notions, and to concentrate on their gang-
brid gangs, law enforcement and other
related criminal activity rather than on
community agencies must understand
their presumed affiliations with traditional
that hybrids do not operate by traditional
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of
gangs. Every community—regardless of
rules but they often follow general patterns
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Preven-
the presence or absence of hybrid gangs—
that distinguish them as a new type of
tion (OJJDP) has invested considerable
should conduct a thorough assessment of
gang. That is, they often have members of
resources in the development and testing
its unique gang problem before devising
different racial/ethnic groups, members
of a Comprehensive Community-Wide Ap-
strategies for combating it.
may claim multiple gangs, codes of con-
proach to Gang Prevention, Intervention,
duct may be unclear, graffiti may contain a
and Suppression (Spergel et al., 1994). This
mixture of symbols, and they may be in-
model, based on a national assessment of
volved in criminal activity alongside other
youth gang policies and programs (Spergel
1. In the remainder of this Bulletin, unless other-
gangs. In other instances, exemplified by
and Curry, 1990), is a general framework
wise noted, the term “gang” refers to youth
the many cities that have factions of Black
that addresses the youth gang problem
Gangster Disciples or Rollin’ 60s Crips,
through the following five interrelated
2. The term “locality” refers to the major types
there may be differing levels of true con-
of named place units found in the United States
nection to the original gang, or the tie may
x Community mobilization.
(Miller, W.B., 2001:15). It includes cities, subur-
be primarily related to criminal activities
ban areas, and counties in the National Youth
such as drug trafficking. This melting pot
x Social intervention, including preven-
Gang Survey.
tion and street outreach.

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This Bulletin was prepared under Cooperative
Agreement 95–JD–MU–K001 with the Institute
for Intergovernmental Research from the Office
of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
David Starbuck was formerly a Sergeant with the Kansas City Police Department,
Points of view or opinions expressed in this
where he supervised the Gang Unit. He is vice president of the Missouri Chapter
document are those of the authors and do not
of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association and an adjunct consultant with
necessarily represent the official position or
NYGC. Mr. Starbuck provided the photograph on page 2.
policies of OJJDP or the U.S. Department of
James C. Howell, Ph.D., is an adjunct researcher with NYGC.
Donna J. Lindquist is a senior research associate with the Institute for Intergovern-
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delin-
mental Research.
quency Prevention is a component of the Of-
The authors are grateful to John Moore, Director of NYGC, and NYGC staff for
fice of Justice Programs, which also includes
valuable reviews and comments on earlier versions of this Bulletin. Phelan Wyrick,
the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau
Program Manager at OJJDP, also made important contributions.
of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of
Justice, and the Office for Victims of Crime.