Gangs in the Western United States

In a study of drug sales and violence among San Francisco gangs, 550 gang members from 84 different gangs were interviewed (Waldorf, 1993). Of these, only three groups reported relationships with other gangs outside San Francisco. The report concluded that:

. . . most gangs do not have the skills or knowledge to move to other communities and establish new markets for drug sales. While it is true they can and do function on their own turf they are often like fish out of water when they go elsewhere. . . . They are not like organized crime figures (Mafia and Colombian cocaine cartels) who have capital, knowledge and power . . . while it might be romantic to think that the L.A. Bloods and Crips are exceptional, I will remain skeptical that they are more competent than other gangs (Waldorf, 1993:8).

To the contrary, a 1988 study of inmates in California correctional institutions and law enforcement and correctional officials suggested high levels of mobility among "entrepreneurial" California gang members traveling long distances to establish drug distribution outlets and maintaining close ties to their gangs of origin (Skolnick et al., 1990; Skolnick, 1990). Among all the empirical studies conducted in this area, Skolnick's resonates most closely with the reports from law enforcement previously cited (Bonfante, 1995; Hayeslip, 1989; California Council on Criminal Justice, 1989; Genelin and Coplen, 1989; McKinney, 1988; National Drug Intelligence Center, 1994, 1996).

Against a backdrop of escalating violence, declining drug prices, and intensified law enforcement, Los Angeles area gang-related drug dealers are seeking new venues to sell the Midas product -- crack cocaine. . . . Respondents claim to have either participated in or have knowledge of Blood or Crip crack operations in 22 states and at least 27 cities. In fact, it appears difficult to overstate the penetration of Blood and Crip members into other states (Skolnick, 1990:8).

But the sheer presence of Crips and Bloods in States other than California is a poor indicator of gang migration. The 1996 NDIC survey identified 180 jurisdictions in 42 States with gangs claiming affiliation with the Bloods and/or Crips. At the same time, the NDIC report cautions against assuming organizational links from gang names.

It is important to note that when a gang has claimed affiliation with the Bloods or Crips, or a gang has taken the name of a nationally known gang, this does not necessarily indicate that this gang is a part of a group with a national infrastructure. While some gangs have interstate connections and a hierarchical structure, the majority of gangs do not fit this profile (NDIC, 1996:v).

Gang Members on the Move Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  October 1998