The Influence of Gang Migration on Gang Proliferation

The primary focus of this Bulletin is to assess whether gang migration has played a major role in gang proliferation. Migrant gang members may stimulate the growth of gangs and gang membership through a variety of processes, such as recruiting locals to establish a branch of the gang in previously unaffected areas. This approach, described as the importation model, involves efforts by gang members to infuse their gang into new cities, primarily to establish new drug markets and other money-making criminal enterprises (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996). This is also referred to as gang franchising (Knox et al., 1996) and gang colonization (Quinn, Tobolowsky, and Downs, 1994). Alternatively, migrants may establish a new gang without structural affiliation to an existing gang. Furthermore, if a sufficient number of individuals from a gang move to a new location, they may replicate a migrant subset of their former gang. No matter what process is used, new local gangs will most likely emerge in response to territorial challenges or perceived protection needs. The city with a single gang is a rare phenomenon (Klein, 1995). Regardless of the pattern of new gang initiation, gang member migration would create an increase in both the number of gangs and gang membership.

Another way migrant gangs may stimulate gang proliferation is by introducing new and exciting cultural distinctions from existing gangs. In a city in which gangs exist but are not firmly established, migrant gang members may act as cultural carriers of the folkways, mythologies, and other trappings of more sophisticated urban gangs. They may offer strong distinctions from other gangs and cause a rivalry with existing gangs, such as the rivalry between the Bloods and Crips in southern California and between the People and Folks in the Midwest. Most of the respondents in the 1993 USC phone survey reported that migrants influence local gang rivalries, gang dress codes, and recruiting methods (Maxson, Woods, and Klein, 1995). In addition, the solidification of local gang subcultures may increase the visibility or attractiveness of gangs to local youth. It may also influence the growth of rival gangs.

Conversely, there are a variety of circumstances in which migrant gang members have little or no impact on gang proliferation. If the geographic location allows, migrants may retain their affiliation with their original gangs by commuting to old territories or they may simply discontinue gang activity altogether. In cities with relatively large and established gangs, it is unlikely that migrant gang members would have a noticeable effect on the overall gang environment.

An important related issue is the impact of migrant gang members on local crime patterns. 2 Migrants are generally perceived as contributing to both increased levels of crime and the seriousness of criminal activity (Maxson, Woods, and Klein, 1995). The 1993 USC survey involved telephone interviews with law enforcement in 211 cities that experienced gang migration in 1992. Most of the cities involved in the survey (86 percent) reported that migrant gang members contributed to an increase in local crime rates or patterns primarily in theft (50-percent increase), robbery (35-percent increase), other violent crimes (59-percent increase), and, to a lesser extent, drug sales (24-percent increase). The small increase in drug sale activity can most likely be attributed to competition from established local drug markets. The survey also showed that the type of criminal gang activity was changing to include increased use of firearms and more sophisticated weapons (36-percent increase). Carjackings, firebombings, residential robberies, drive-by shootings, and advanced techniques for vehicle theft were also cited on occasion. Changes in the targets of criminal activity and the use of other technological advances were mentioned less frequently.

    2 Whether or not migrants provide a catalyst to local gang proliferation, their impact on local crime is of considerable concern to law enforcement.

Gang Members on the Move Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  October 1998