According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, gangs are expanding, evolving and posing an increased threat to U.S. communities.
The FBI's 2011 Gang Threat Assessment found that there are an estimated 1.4 million active street, prison, and outlaw motorcycle gang members in more than 33,000 gangs operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. While 2011 numbers reflect an increase from 2009 figures, the rise is due primarily to more comprehensive reporting from law enforcement and enhanced gang recruiting efforts.
Assistant Ford County Attorney Scott James works with gang related cases, including the recent federal indictment of 23 members of the Norteno gang.
The indictment was based on a two-year investigation in which the Dodge City Police Department teamed up with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the United States Attorney's Office and other local, state and federal agencies to build the case.
In the area of gang prosecution, James said numbers have declined dramatically. According to James, Dodge City had almost as many shootings as Wichita in 2007.
Wichita is nearly ten times the size of Dodge City.
“In the past three to four years the number of cases have declined every year,” he said. “The incidence of shootings has gone down exponentially.”
“We have very effective combined efforts with law enforcement and prosecution agencies to prevent recruitment at local schools and to target gang leadership,” James said.
Gang members in Dodge City have been found to be as young as 13. Contrary to what many may think, James estimates that a nearly 99 percent of members are U.S. citizens not illegal immigrants.
“Most of them are natural born and are second or third generation citizens,” James said.
The FBI's assessment also determined that gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others.
According to James, there have been no shootings so far this year, compared to three last year and ten in 2009.
James said when it comes to Dodge City, gang members are more likely to be responsible for certain violent crimes than others.
“If you look at shootings, gangs are most likely to make up a high percentage of those crimes,” he said. “But for crimes like burglaries, it will be a lower percentage because they may commit a burglary, but they're not the only ones committing those kinds of crimes.”
FBI Community Outreach Specialist and long-time gang expert Linda Schmidt said there are certain signs parents can look for as a warning that their child may be involved in a gang.
“Watch for changes in your child's personality, grades, clothing, and friends. Has your son or daughter been tattooed? Or injured-because boys are often beaten and girls raped as part of their initiation into a gang,” she said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Page 2 of 2 - One of the attractions of a gang is its strict discipline, Schmidt said.
“With that discipline comes structure and limits and a sense of security and belonging. That's what we need to offer to our young people as well-just in a positive way. We can't be afraid, as parents and teachers, to provide structure and discipline to our children and students.”
Reach Abigail Wilson at (620) 408-9917 or e-mail her at email@example.com.