A new survey of 38 police agencies throughout Texas and the latest national studies indicate that youth gangs are increasing in size, activities, and seriousness, and spreading to smaller cities and rural areas.

National studies have indicated that Texas is now second only to California in the number of gangs. Researchers at the Criminal Justice Center at Sam Houston State University recently analyzed agency reports on almost 3,300 gangs in their jurisdictions, with detailed information on the organization and activities of 175 gangs.

"Public and criminal justice officials' concerns about youth gangs is related to the idea that membership in a gang promotes crime," said Ruth Triplett, associate professor in the College of Criminal Justice at SHSU.

"Some researchers say that gang membership facilitates or increases the offending rate of its members," said Triplett. "There is also evidence that gang members commit a disproportionate amount of crime, including violent crime."

The police agencies responding to Triplett's survey indicated that the most common crime in which their gangs are believed to be involved is weapons offenses (92 percent), serious assault (89 percent) and auto theft (86 percent). Their estimates also included murder (55 percent) and sexual assault (39 percent).

"A majority of the agencies surveyed perceived youth gangs to be a serious problem in comparison to other crime problems in their jurisdiction," said Triplett. "The findings also suggest that youth gangs in Texas, as in many other states, are increasing in size, activities and seriousness."

Information submitted by the responding agencies this spring indicates that 84 percent perceive youth gangs as a serious community problem, that same percentage reported increases in number of crimes committed by youth gangs, and 82 percent reported that the last five years has shown an increase in the seriousness of youth gang activity.

While the average number of members in each gang is 170, the largest gang reported was the WSV Kings of San Antonio, with 1,000 members. The San Antonio Police Department reported the largest number of gangs (797) with six other agencies, including those in El Paso, Garland, Arlington, Euless, Fort Worth and Houston, each reporting over 100 gangs.

Policing agencies have responded to the problem with multi-jurisdictional task forces, gang awareness programs, police store front officers, resident officer programs, neighborhood watches, graffiti abatement and juvenile crime coalitions. Programs involving schools, families, and athletic activities were also reported.

The most common program, reported by 76 percent of the respondents, was curfew ordinances. Curfews are also among the most effective, agencies say, with 100 percent rating them as somewhat (65 percent) or very (35 percent) effective.

"Though traditional police practices center around suppression and organizational development, the perception of recent growth in gangs and their activities has led to an expansion in the number and types of programs the police use," said Triplett.

Some of the games have colorful and interesting names, such as El Paso's Folk Nation and Los Fatherless, Arlington's Shorty Folk, Euless's South Pacific Islanders, North Richland Hills' Angel Boys, and the Midnight Dreamers, reported in Grand Prairie, Addison, and Dallas.

The recent reports indicate that youth gangs are becoming less exclusive. Various mixtures of male/female, old/young, and white/black/Hispanic/Asian are more common than in the past. National studies have shown, and the Texas statistics agree, that female participation in general has increased. But there was only one all-female gang reported--Odessa's KGL (Krazy Girls Living).


Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak

July 3, 1997