New FBI Report Shows Increase in Activity of "Hybrid Gangs"

New FBI report shows gang activity continues to increase nationwide as gangs branch into new, more sophisticated criminal territory.

As of April, 2011, more than 1.4 million men and women in the United States were regularly engaging in criminal activity as members of approximately 33,000 different identifiable gangs according to a new report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Gang Intelligence Center. The annual National Gang Threat Assessment shows gang activity continues to rise in America and gangs are embracing advanced technologies and capitalizing on recent economic trends to find new ways to break the law.

While gang activity tends to be highly localized to specific areas of the country’s largest urban centers, the FBI report shows that very few law enforcement jurisdictions are completely immune from gang-related crime. In most jurisdictions, gangs are responsible for an average of 48% of the violent crime reported. In areas where gang activity is most common, that figure jumps to 90%.

The FBI is monitoring closely the rise of “hybrid gangs” in more than 25 different states. These non-traditional gangs tend to have multiple affiliations and often cross demographic and geographic lines that traditionally define gang activity. The migratory nature of these gangs, and lack of easily identifiable characteristics, makes hybrid gangs much harder for law enforcement to track and combat, contributing to both an increase in the estimated number of gang members and a rise in the volume of crime attributable to gangs.

According to the FBI, gang activity is intensifying at both American borders. The escalating drug wars in Mexico are spilling over into Southwestern states as Mexican cartel leaders recruit U.S. gangs to serve as enforcers for their interests on the American side of the border. Southern gangs are also stepping up activity in the areas of arms smuggling, human trafficking and facilitation of illegal immigration. Along the Canadian border, the FBI reports gangs are increasing their efforts to smuggle drugs, firearms, cigarettes and illegal immigrants.

Among new types of illegal activity being embraced by gangs, white-collar crime is growing most rapidly, according to data cited in the report. Specifically, counterfeiting, identity theft and mortgage fraud are increasingly popular. FBI agents believe the lower visibility of these crimes combined with the high profit potential in an unstable economy is attracting gang members to the less traditional activities. At the same time, gangs are arming themselves with more sophisticated weapons, including high-powered, military-style firearms and ammunition.

Another cause of the rise in gang membership is the increasing use of Internet technology and social networking resources to recruit new members and spread the influence of traditionally territorial gangs. More gang activity is being organized online, says the FBI, and gangs are using high-tech tools to set up additional cells outside a gang’s original neighborhood or city.

Despite the increasing sophistication, ferocity and creativity of gangs in America, the FBI says it is working hard to stay in front of gang-related trends and combat gang violence in new and unorthodox ways. The first priority, according to FBI officials, is to change the way gangs are perceived by agents. Anti-gang training has traditionally been based on historical information of high-profile gang activity, like the well-publicized feud between the “Crips” and “Bloods” gangs of Los Angeles, but this training leaves officers unprepared to identify the new, decentralized characteristics of modern gangs. Updated training has improved the perspective of most agents in the field, and better use of technology is helping fight gang crime that is, likewise, more technologically sophisticated. The FBI now monitors social networks as carefully as it monitors city streets for potential gang activity. Using complex search algorithms, the FBI watches a variety of online services for evidence of gang mischief, including the very earliest signs of organizational efforts that could eventually lead to coordinated illegal activity.

Source: 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, FBI National Gang Intelligence Center