In the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment an estimated 33,000 gangs representing some 1.4 million “documented” gang members “reported” by law enforcement agencies in the United States. That number is up from approximately 1.0 million representing approximately 20,000 gangs in 2009.
According to the 2015 National Gang Report:
As you can see, at a time when more attention, training, intelligence and enforcement operations at all levels of government are being applied to gang reduction strategies, gang membership continues to increase. Some of this can be the attributed to better reporting – some to better trained officers and some to political acceptance but a vast majority of it – the ugly or what I call the undeniable truth is gang membership is rising and those gang members are not just getting older or younger – they are getting both. We are finding that more adults are joining gangs and younger and younger kids are joining gangs with ages as young as 8 years old committing crimes of violence.
Gangs can now be identified in all 50 states and D.C. with a national average of 48% of all violent crime being attributed to criminal street gangs with that percentage reaching as high as 90% in several cities nationwide.
Gangs are actively involved in both street and white collar crimes to include but not limited to:
According to the National Retail Federation, last year, 94% of retailers (Large Department Stores) said they were victims of Organized Retail Crime. The gangs of yester-year are no longer and tomorrow’s gangs are going to be more active, more technically advanced, better equipped and more difficult to identify, track, arrest and convict than ever before.
We have seen an increase in the connection between criminal street gangs and the Mexican Cartels as the cartels know the street gangs control the drug sales and the streets are their store fronts.
We have seen today’s criminal street gangs identify with and go as far as travel to fight side-by-side with known terrorist organizations in the Middle East.
We have seen unofficial estimates as high as 10% of today’s United States Military Personnel could have some level of association and/or affiliation with documented criminal street gangs and carry their gang loyalty to boot camp and onto the front lines where they engage in tagging armored vehicles with gang graffiti, hold meetings, recruit other military personnel, commit crimes and in a few cases – attack each other up and to include shootings.
So what does all this mean? For starters – we have a much greater gang problem in this country than most elected officials, agencies, schools, jails and prisons like to admit. We need to realize that the gang threat touches every community, every citizen, every child and every member of the criminal justice profession. No one discipline is immune to their reach and impact.
Agencies have a training and intelligence gap as it pertains to gang education and current trends. We spend the most time, money and effort training those assigned to a gang unit and/or task force when they make up the smallest part of the criminal justice “enforcement” group. This position leads everyone else in criminal justice to believe they do not "need to know" even the basics of gang knowledge, training or intelligence when more times than not they will be the ones who make first contact with the possible gang/gang member suspect.
What about the Road Patrol who pulls over a car for a broken tail light with a gang member inside or a School Resource Officer who makes first contact with a gang member in his/her local school or when the corrections officer assigned to booking, housing unit or a rec yard makes first contact with a new inmate or even when the crime/intelligence analyst processes information on a new suspect only known to the gang unit for his nickname, tattoos, or modus operandi?
Would even the most basic of gang knowledge assist them in not simply being more effective and diligent in their duties? Would the increased knowledge increase their situational awareness or their personal safety better preparing them to protect the public?
Do gang members steal cars, commit homicides, or commit cyber fraud? Absolutely, so why are Robbery, Homicide and Cyber Detectives not trained in gang structure, operations, tactics and trends? Why do Gang Officers who transfer into Homicide Units cancel their gang association memberships removing themselves from a vast network and a wealth of current trends and tactics analysis reports?
The point is this – you are not going into “law enforcement” or “correction” or “intelligence” – you are going into “criminal justice” and as criminal justice professionals you are positioned to make first contact with a gang member, a terrorist, a drug dealer, human smuggler, active shooter of even a contract hit man. If you are in the criminal justice profession – no matter what discipline, unit or assignment; it is imperative that you take it upon yourself to be better educated – better equipped – better trained and better prepared in all threats and apply that knowledge to your day-to-day career.
We need to do better – we need to do better at educating every discipline of the criminal justice profession about the current state of the nation’s gang threat and how they – how you and not just the gang unit are part of the intelligence, enforcement, prosecution, and reduction equation.
There are many things that criminal justice professionals are charged with doing in the year 2014 and those will no doubt continue to increase and that makes this one of the most challenging, dangerous and unforgiving professions in a world more dangerous than ever.
Are you prepared?
I along with countless others have spent thousands of our own money over the course of a career attending conferences, seminars, meetings, advanced education opportunities, traveling abroad, building international networks and seeking certifications through organization and association involvement long after employment with an agency so to be as prepared as one can be and to invest in our own careers – you cannot wait for an agency to carry that financial burden.
In today’s law enforcement, one must be willing to sacrifice beyond the job to stand out from the crowd of career advancing professionals you are competing against. You must do the work to get noticed and not wait to you get noticed to do the work. If you are not willing to invest in yourself how can you expect your agency to? If you are not, someone else is.
You are a Warrior – a Sheep Dog – A Protector of the People. Whether training, education, information or contacts, it is up to you to fill in the gaps of preparation that your agency will no doubt leave open.
My grandparents instilled in me to know as much about what you are doing as you possibly can. If it impacts you – know about it, learn about it, and make every attempt to master it. It’s not about a need to know anymore. It’s about being “in the know.”
One of the quotes that has been on my desk since the day I started is; “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Surround yourself with people who are only going to lift you higher and never settle for not knowing what you don’t know.
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