The federal government defines a gang as a group of at least three members that use a group identity or association to classify themselves. The purpose of the group is to engage in criminal activity and operates through acts that instill fear, intimidation, and violence. Though many associate gang activity with youth, gangs are not limited to a specific age. However, there are gangs solely referred to as “youth gangs.” Tampa Bay is known for having more than 25 youth gangs including the 39th Ave North Boys, Jamestown Project Gang, Latin Kings, Grand Theft Auto, Black Hawks, Folk Nation, Port of Tampa Gang, Righteous Gangster Disciples, Tampa Boyz, Town & Country Villains, and Devil Boys. As the Federal government utilizes specific descriptions in defining gangs, states do as well.
Gang definitions may vary from one state to the next, however, many states agree on several common factors attributed to gangs. Florida Statute 874.03 gives definitions for a criminal street gang, criminal street gang member, criminal street gang associate, and a gang related incident. Where Federal defines a criminal street gang as a group with three or more individuals, Florida law defines a criminal street gang as having three or more individuals that associate and identify themselves with similar symbols, signs, or colors. A Florida criminal street gang also has at least two members that have established a pattern of criminal activity.
Each year, the National Gang Center (a joint effort of the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) provides an annual survey of gang activity. According to the National Gang Center, gang activity is on the rise.
Though there isn’t one single definition to define gangs, there are similarities amongst gangs nationwide and these include the crimes youth gangs commit. Some examples of crimes executed by Tampa youth gangs include carjacking, trespassing, theft, burglary, assault, attempted murder, murder, drug related offenses, violent crimes, and criminal mischief. Also important to understand is that the very act of joining or associating with a known gang is a criminal offense.
The Florida Department of Corrections developed the Security Threat Group initiative in 1992 to address the problem of prison gangs. F.D.L.E. describes a number of different gangs such as prison, street, cult groups, white supremacy groups, motorcycle gangs and subversive groups. Young children and teens that associate with street gangs are at a high risk of remaining in the gang throughout their lifetime. When dealing with gangs, prevention is the best method as it is extremely difficult to get someone out of a gang once they are in. Prison violence related to street gangs is on the rise. You may find more information regarding gangs, their backgrounds, and the street gangs that have evolved from various sets here: FDLE Gangs and Security Threat Groups.
For more information regarding youth gangs, criminal activity, and gang history in the United States, please sees the resources below.
Gang History in the United States
Modern Day Youth Gangs