Gangs in the U.S. include prison gangs, local street gangs, and national street gangs. There are about 33,000 gangs in the U.S., with over one million members. Many of these gangs started and still exist in urban areas. For example, national street gangs developed in major cities like Chicago and New York City but later grew in other cities like Washington D.C. and Albuquerque. Gangs are active in all 50 states, all U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
While gang members and gang activity exist across the country, some states have a larger gang presence than others.
California, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, and Illinois have the most gang members for every 1,000 citizens of the state. Because California, Nevada, and Illinois have major cities, the amount of gang activity would be expected to be higher. New Mexico has been the focus of an FBI investigation of gang activity.
Probably the most surprising state on the list is Idaho. There has been a growing gang presence in the state for the past few years. Many of these gangs originated in the state’s prisons, although there are members of national and local gangs as well.
American gangs are responsible for about 48% of violent crimes in most jurisdictions. Major cities and suburban surroundings experience most gang activities, especially gang-related violent crimes.
Gangs are known to engage in gambling, arms and drug trafficking, white-collar crimes like fraud, identity theft, counterfeiting, and nontraditional prostitution and human trafficking activities. Nowadays, gangs are participating in more nontraditional crimes like mortgage fraud and identity theft. These new nontraditional crimes create lower visibility and higher profitability. Moreover, gang members are more likely to be involved or arrested for alcohol and drug abuse than non-gang members.
While some neighborhood gangs are affiliated with national-level gangs, many are much smaller. Even with this difference, much of the violence perpetuated by gangs is done by these types of gangs. Neighborhood or local gangs are much more concerned with protecting their area, or turf, from larger gangs. This is usually done using weapons that are a danger to others in the community.
Some members of these gangs that are more established nationally are recruited from local or neighborhood-based gangs. This shows that gang membership can change based on the activities of the members.
Prison gangs seem to be fueling much of the growth of gang-related activity outside of major urban areas. While they usually have fewer members than street gangs, many members are also part of street gangs when they are not incarcerated. Most of these prison gangs are divided by racial or ethnic identity.
Gangs by State