Eliminating Gangs and Gang Violence

Eliminating Gangs and Gang Violence

It’s easy to be either fearful or judgmental about gangs, particularly youth gangs. With the recent violence in our own community that is attributed to gang involvement, it’s important to know that often, a young person joining a gang is extremely vulnerable and the “gang” may offer a place to fit in.

The following information was shared at a Chrysalis Roundtable event several years ago, a series we were honored to deliver in partnership with the Des Moines Police Department.

Here is an excerpt from the handout we created for the GANGS: WHAT IS HAPPENING IN DES MOINES Roundtable in 2015 – some is a bit dated, but we learned at the time that public awareness about gangs needs to mor widespread, particularly for people working with youth:

There are several hundred gang-related crimes in Polk County annually, including homicide, felony assault, and robbery.  The Des Moines Police Department reported that in the summer of 2014, there were over 30 active gangs involving over 500 people in Polk County.  Since 2005 there has been a 25% increase in gang graffiti (an indicator of gang activity) for a total for 1,083 gang graffiti cases last year.

According to the Justice Department, a gang is "a well-defined group of youths between 10 and 22 years old."  To be considered a "youth gang," a group must be involved in a pattern of criminal acts.

The criminal acts, especially acts of violence, serve to bond the group together.

Researchers note that "sharing the anticipation, danger, harm, and excitement of a gang's exercise of brutality creates feelings of a common identity and shared purpose.”

In 2022 the National Gang Center reported there were 24,500 active gangs in the U.S. and 32% of gang members were adolescents.

Girls in Gangs

Girls and boys most often join gangs to gain a sense of belonging. An estimated 60% of gangs do not allow female members (girls are around but are not considered members).  Gangs that do allow female members have a 10 to 1 ratio of males to females. The U.S. Department of Justice reports only 2% of all gangs are female only.  Female gang members are known to commit fewer crimes and acts of violence; their incarceration tends to be for drug use, larceny, petty theft, status offenses, or domestic issues like running away from home.

Certain risk factors increase the likelihood that a girl will join a gang including:

  • Childhood history of sexual or physical abuse
  • Serious emotional disturbance (childhood psychological issues)
  • Special education needs
  • Family involvement in gangs
  • Lack of positive out-of-school time options
  • Involvement in the foster care system

Gangs in the Community

Several signs that indicate the presence of gang activity in a community:

  • Graffiti: Gangs use graffiti to mark their territory.  When another gang disputes territory they often cross out the rival gang's graffiti and replace it with their own.
  • Colors, jewelry, and distinctive clothing: Gangs generally establish distinctive clothing to signify affiliation with a particular gang.  Unwary youth wearing similar clothing may become victims of gang rivalries.
  • Physical confrontations and stare-downs: Increasing violence may signal the presence of gangs.
  • Drive-by shootings: Drive-by shootings are most often the result of competition between gangs for territory.
  • "Show-by" display of weapons: Usually a precursor to drive-by shootings, gang members will drive by brandishing weapons to demonstrate their capacity for deadly violence.
  • Racial conflict: There is a high correlation between racial conflict and gang membership.  Many gangs are formed along racial and ethnic lines for protection and affiliation.
  • Increasing presence of informal groups termed a "posse," "crew," or some other socially questionable name: Informal groups with seemingly benign, yet revealing, names may be the first step to becoming involved with a gang.
  • Tattoos: Gang members often have tattoos that symbolize their gang affiliation.

What you can do to help eliminate gangs and gang violence in your community

  • Be active in your neighborhood:  A gang's power grows through instilling fear and intimidation in rival gangs and citizens.  Citizen action groups such as Neighborhood Watch or Neighborhood Patrols can assist in countering this activity; a neighborhood that shares cooperation toward stopping crime and violence greatly hinders a gang's efforts to intimidate and victimize.
  • Invest in after-school programs that provide high-quality engaging experiences for youth in your community and teach alternatives to violence.
  • Call the Des Moines Police Department Vice and Narcotics Control and report anything suspicious: 515-283-4830.

To share information with friends and other parents, check out the Office of Justice Programs’ Parents' Guide to Gangs (ojp.gov).

Our opportunity to educate girls and young women involved in Chrysalis After-School programs provides them a place to “belong” and to teach them how to avoid possible dangers, how to make their own decisions about their lives, and how to find trusted and supportive adults to reach out for help when they need it. As with the issue of human trafficking, our prevention efforts are a powerful investment in assuring girls and young women become strong and successful adults.