Law enforcement officers from communities unaffected by gangs until the 1980s or early 1990s often find themselves scrambling to obtain training relevant to what are called hybrid youth gangs in the 21st century. These include gangs with large memberships of illegal aliens from Mexico (Mexican Mafia), El Salvador (MS-13), the Dominican Republic, and others.
When gang-related training first became widely available in the early 1990s, it often emphasized historical information, such as the formation of the Los Angeles Crips and Bloods in the late 1960s or the legacy of Chicago-based gangs (the Black Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, and Vice Lords).
As law enforcement officers learned about the origins of these influential gangs, they sometimes attempted to apply this outdated information in their efforts to deal with illegal immigrant gangs in their jurisdictions.
The assumption that new gangs share the characteristics of older gangs can impede law enforcement’s attempts to identify and effectively counter local street gangs, and actions based on this assumption often elicit inappropriate responses from the community as a whole. Citizens may react negatively to law enforcement efforts when they sense that gang suppression actions are geared to a more serious gang problem than local gangs appear to present.
Because of uncertainty in reporting on problem groups such as "cliques," "crews," "posses," and other nontraditional collectives that may be immigrant gangs, some police department staff spend an inordinate amount of time trying to precisely categorize local groups according to definitions of traditional gangs.
When training law 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 criminal activity and alarm community members, law enforcement officers should focus on the criminal activity, regardless of the ideological beliefs or identifiers (i.e., name, symbols, and group colors) of the suspects. This practical approach would circumvent the frustration that results from trying to pigeonhole hybrid gangs into narrow categories and would avoid giving undue attention to gangs that want to be recognized as nationwide crime syndicates.
The expanded presence of gangs is often blamed on the relocation of members from one city to another, which is called gang migration. Some gangs are very transient and conduct their activities on a national basis. This is especially true of illegal immigrant gangs.
However, the sudden appearance of Rollin’ 60s Crips graffiti in a public park in rural Iowa, for example, does not necessarily mean that the Los Angeles gang has set up a chapter in the community. Gang names are frequently copied, adopted, or passed on. In most instances, there is little or no real connection between local groups with the same name other than the name itself. Gang migration does occur, however.
According to the National Youth Gang Survey, 18 percent of all youth gang members had migrated from another jurisdiction to the one in which they were residing. Although gang migration is stereotypically attributed to illegal activities such as drug franchising, expansion of criminal enterprises is not the principal driving force behind migration. The most common reasons for migration are social considerations affecting individual gang members, including family relocation to improve the quality of life or to be near relatives and friends.
Moreover, in the National Youth Gang Survey, the vast majority (83 percent) of law enforcement respondents agreed that the appearance of gang members outside of large cities in the 1990s was caused by the relocation of young people from central cities.
Thus, the dispersion of the urban population to less populated areas contributed to the proliferation of gangs in suburban areas, small towns, and rural areas.Law enforcement professionals may not be able to differentiate among local gangs that have adopted names of the same well-known gangs from other locales but have no real connection with each other until they begin to interact with gang members through interviews, debriefings, and other contacts.
"Hybrid" versions of illegal alien gangs will begin to display variations of the original gang, such as giving different reasons for opposing rival gangs or displaying certain colors. Investigators who take the time to cross-check their local gang intelligence with that of other agencies concerning gangs with identical names are likely to find some subtle and some glaring differences.
Source: Institute for Intergovernmental Research National Youth Gang Center, National Association of Chiefs of Police Organized Crime Committee
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.