National Youth Gang Survey Analysis

Defining Gangs and Designating Gang Membership

Definitional Characteristics of a Gang

Respondents provided information regarding common characteristics of local importance in defining a gang.

  • In general, law enforcement agencies report that group criminality is of greatest importance and the presence of leadership is of least importance in defining a gang. 
  • Additionally, law enforcement agencies tend to emphasize the same definitional characteristics in defining a gang irrespective of year of gang onset.
Definitional Characteristics of a Gang
  Average Rank
(1=Least Important, 6=Most Important)
Definitional Characteristics Larger Cities Suburban Counties Smaller Cities Rural Counties
Commits Crimes Together 4.8 4.9 4.7 4.5
Has a Name 3.9 3.7 3.3 3.5
Displays Colors or Other Symbols 3.3 3.2 3.3 3.2
Hangs Out Together 3.1 3.0 3.6 3.3
Claims Turf or Territory 3.3 3.1 3.0 2.9
Has a Leader or Leaders 2.6 3.1 3.0 3.5

Analysis for this section pertains only to law enforcement agencies reporting gang problems. Please see the Prevalence of Gang Problems section.

Designating Gang Membership

Respondents provided information regarding criteria used to designate individuals as gang members in their jurisdictions.

  • For larger and smaller cities and suburban counties, a clear majority of agencies emphasize the use of the self-nomination technique compared with other criteria (e.g., arrested or associates with known gang members; tattoos, colors, or other symbols; identified by a reliable source) in identifying and documenting individuals as gang members in their jurisdictions.
  • The above pattern is similar for rural counties but with a noticeably greater emphasis on the display of tattoos, colors, or other symbols as a means for designating gang membership.
Designating Gang Membership
Individual Claims Membership Larger Cities Suburban Counties Smaller Cities Rural Counties
Frequently Used 78.7% 69.3% 67.8% 47.8%
Infrequently Used 21.3 30.7 32.2 52.2

Analysis for this section pertains only to law enforcement agencies reporting gang problems. Please see the Prevalence of Gang Problems section.

Suggested citation: National Gang Center. National Youth Gang Survey Analysis. Retrieved [date] from http://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/Survey-Analysis.