This study sought to identify and describe different gang types, based on a nationwide survey of police agencies and structured personal interviews with gang members in Chicago and San Diego, and to distinguish between typical and more serious gangs.
The national mail survey was administered to large municipal police agencies, those serving more than 50,000, and a response rate of 74 percent was achieved. The survey was designed to illuminate differences between gang types with respect to organizational characteristics, demographic composition, and criminal activities. The survey also examined relationships between various criminal groups and the evolving nature of gangs over time. Four highly organized criminal gangs were studied. Results showed no clear evidence of ongoing relationships or linkages between gangs and organized crime groups, but highly organized gangs appeared to be opportunistic and take advantage of opportunities that occurred with other crime groups. Even the most organized gangs were not really that organized and did not seem to share much in common with traditional images of organized crime. Gang size appeared to be the most significant factor in predicting degree of gang organization. Despite widespread concern about serious gangs, such as drug dealing or violent gangs, serious gangs were less common than typical gangs. In contrast to public perceptions, police officials indicated many gangs were not racially homogeneous. Gangs in Chicago tended to be larger and more organized than gangs in San Diego. Policy implications and recommendations relative to the study of and response to gangs are offered. The survey instrument is appended. 51 references and 26 tables
Date Published: January 1, 1997