The National Survey on Gang Migration

In 1992, the University of Southern California conducted a mail survey of law enforcement personnel in approximately 1,100 U.S. cities. The survey was distributed to all cities with a population of more than 100,000 and to more than 900 cities and towns that serve as likely environments for street gangs or gang migration. 3 Law enforcement officials suggested municipalities to include in the survey, and all cities with organizations that investigate gangs were included. To increase the survey pool, the survey asked respondents to list cities to which their local gang members had moved. This sample is best characterized as a purposive sample of gang cities -- it is neither representative of all U.S. cities and towns, although all large cities are enumerated fully, or all gang cities. 4 This survey captured data on the largest number of cities with gangs identified at the time (and a majority of the cities identified by the NYGC survey in 1995) and is the only systematic enumeration of U.S. cities experiencing gang migration to date. Repeated mailings and telephone followup resulted in completion of the survey by more than 90 percent of those polled.

empty lot To develop descriptions about the nature of gang migration and local responses to it, extensive telephone interviews were conducted with law enforcement officers in 211 cities that reported the arrival of at least 10 migrant gang members in 1991. Interview participants were sampled from a larger pool of 480 cities that cited at least moderate levels of gang migration. Other facets of the study included interviews with community informants and case studies, including personal interviews with migrant gang members.5

A primary limitation of this research design is the necessity to rely on law enforcement for depictions of the scope and nature of gang migration. Locally based ethnographic approaches -- based on the systematic recording of particular human cultures -- would lend a more comprehensive view of the migration situation in individual cities. The USC case studies involved a range of informants whose depictions sometimes contrasted markedly with law enforcement's assessment of the issue. The attempt to extend beyond law enforcement to community respondents produced mixed results, because informants were generally less informed about migration matters in the city as a whole and tended to focus on particular neighborhoods of interest. It would seem that law enforcement is the best available source of information on national patterns of gang migration, but the reader should be wary of the limitations on law enforcement as a source of information on migration. These limitations include the occupational focus of law enforcement on crime (i.e., if migrants are not engaged in a lot of crime, they are less likely to come to the attention of law enforcement), the lack of local data bases with systematically gathered information about migration, and the definitional challenges described earlier in Clarifying the Concepts. Given these limitations, the results from this study should be viewed as exploratory until replicated by further research.

    3 It should be noted that incorporated cities (of all population sizes) were the unit of analysis in this study; unincorporated areas were not included. Whenever cities contracted law enforcement responsibilities to sheriff's departments or State police, such agencies were pursued as respondents. Letters were addressed to the head agency official with a request to pass the survey on to the individual in the department most familiar with the gang situation within the city jurisdiction.

    4 A random sample of 60 cities with a population of between 10,000 and 100,000 was surveyed for gang migration or local street-gang presence. Projections from this sample indicate a much larger number of U.S. cities with gang migration than have been identified to date.

    5 These data are not presented in this report. Also not included are data from interviews with law enforcement in 15 cities that reported drug-gang migration only. This report refers to street-gang, rather than drug-gang, migration. See earlier discussion under Clarifying the Concepts for the distinction between the two types.

Gang Members on the Move Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  October 1998