Gangs & Gang Life



According to the California Penal Code, a gang is an ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more specified criminal acts, having a common name or common identifying sign or symbol, and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

Gang Presence

People often assume gangs are a ‘big city’ problem. The truth is that gangs are present everywhere in America, from major urban areas to surrounding suburbs and rural communities. Gangs have been glorified through music videos, and movies, and have made their way onto the internet – hosting web sites, or creating profile pages on popular networking sites to lure recruits. They have even established a global presence. Gangs are breaking through racial, cultural and socio-economic barriers to grow their memberships. Young people from all economic and social backgrounds have been lured into gang life, from as early as age six or seven.

Gang Activity

Today’s gangs participate in a number or destructive and violent behaviors that target rival gangs and impact innocent bystanders. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, gang members participate in “a variety of anti-social behaviors, including battery, mayhem, sexual assault, damage to property, larceny, murder, gang wars and other criminal activity”. Gangs profit from criminal acts, such as narcotic sales, robberies and auto thefts. They vandalize property with gang graffiti.  They possess assault weapons and deadly firearms to use on the streets or in drive-by shootings. Gang-related crimes devastate our families and unravel the fabric of our communities.

Gang Names and Nicknames

Gangs use various names to represent their gang, crew, or clique. The gang name may have reference to a commonly-known gang (“Crips”, “Vice Lords”), while the clique name may have a connection to the gang’s neighborhood (street name, geographic location). Most gang members adopt nicknames when they are recruited to a gang. These nicknames might identify certain physical traits (“Shorty), desribe a skill or the recruit’s personality.

There are an estimated 30,700 gangs within the USA, with a membership of over 850,000. There were 2,363 known gang related homicides in 2012.
Source: 2012 National Youth Gang Survey

Percentage of U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies Reporting Gang Problems (2009)
Rural Counties


Smaller Cities


Suburban Counties


Larger Cities


Source: National Youth Gang Center
Common Myths:
I live in an exclusive suburb. There’s no real gang threat here. Wrong. In fact, 65% of law enforcement in suburban counties report gang problems in their areas. Gangs are making their way into all of America’s communities, even the most exclusive, thanks to the media and the internet. By posting glorified gang videos on and persuasive profiles on popular networking web sites, gangs can appeal to kids who are bored in their upper class suburban neighborhoods.I have a daughter, so I really have nothing to worry about.  Gangs are for boys. Girls are just as susceptible to gang recruitment as boys. Current estimates suggest that 9% – 22% of gang members are female. Additional studies have found that female gangs are more likely to be found in small cities and rural environments than in larger cities.My son is young, I don’t need to educate him about gangs  until he’s in high school. Gang involvement  can begin as early as elementary school. Children as young as 6 years old have been recruited to work for gangs. Talk to your children early and often.
*Source: National Youth Gang Center


Risk Factors

A recent Advancement Project report identified six major risk factors that contribute to gang involvement in urban environments:

  • Lack of jobs for youth
  • Poverty compounded by social isolation
  • Domestic violence
  • Negative peer networks
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Early academic failure and lack of school attachment

These risk factors increase the odds that a young person will join a gang, but is not a guarantee as we see members joining from suburbs and seemingly stable family environments. The reasons why young people join gangs can vary from simple to more complex.

Some reasons include:

A Sense of “Family” – Young people might feel that they don’t receive enough support or attention at home. They may be trying to escape a negative home life, or may be looking for a father figure as there isn’t a positive role model in their life to look up to.  Gangs often make promises to give unconditional support, and to become the “family” they never had.  There is also a feeling that participating will gain them respect.

Need for food or money – Gangs may present themselves as a means of survival to youth who lack basic essentials such as food, clothing and shelter. More and more, gang members use their affiliation to make a profit through illegal activities, such as selling drugs and auto theft.

Desire for protection – Communities with high gang activity often see young people join a gang just to survive. It is often easier to join the gang than to remain vulnerable and unprotected in their neighborhoods.

Peer Pressure – Kids and teens face constant pressure to fit in, and they may not have the support they need to avoid the pressures to join a gang. Peer pressure can come in the form of intimidation, coercion, a dare, harassment, friendly persuasion, or repetitious begging.

Family history or tradition – Families can have gang involvement spanning over multiple generations. This is one of the toughest forms of pressure to escape, as the gang lifestyle is deeply rooted in family traditions and values.

Excitement – Some young people get a rush out of defying authority, or committing crimes. They may be attracted to the gang lifestyle, as it lives outside the law and participates in many illicit behaviors.

To Appear Cool – Gangs have mastered the art of manipulation to attract potential recruits. They wear the latest fashion trends, throw the hottest parties, and drive the coolest cars. They can appear to have the ‘perfect’ lifestyle to a young kid who’s looking to fit in somewhere. The offer an image of “cool” that has been glorified by the media and entertainment industry.

Idle Time – They are not involved in sports or recreational activities that keep them occupied and out of trouble.


6 signs a young person might be involved in a gang…

It’s not unusual for teenagers to start acting differently as they develop a sense of identity and individuality. It is part of growing up. However, when someone becomes involved in a gang there are quite extreme changes in their attitudes, lifestyle and behavior. The following patterns are common among young people who have entered a gang lifestyle:

  1. They suddenly have large amounts of money, expensive new clothing or material possessions that cannot be explained by known sources of income.

  2. They exhibit changes in behavior and have different friends. These friends may be older and have quite different interests than your child.
  3. They show little or no interest in family activities.
  4. They begin acting in a paranoid and secretive manner because they are being immersed in a culture of fear.
  5. They display a loss of self-identity.
  6. They develop an obsessive interest in violent movies or music.

If you would like to have a confidential discussion with a professional who can help, click here for resources.


The Cities listed below have specific information regarding the gangs in their area

City of Oxnard 

GANG LIFE. A Life of Violence

It is not random violence, they are targeting another gang member.

They will often try to attack a rival in public. As a result, friends and family members are put in the path of danger. Understandably, many relatives and friends refuse to spend time with a gang member because they are concerned for their own personal safety.



Gang leaders downplay the negative experience of jail to potential members. The fact of the matter is that gang members spend a big portion of their lives in jail. This may be years of going in and out of jail on a series of lesser crimes, or could end up being prison for the rest of their life for murder. Often what is thought to be ‘just a fight’ ends in serious injury or death. There is no such thing in gang life as ‘just a fight’.


2. DEATH           

What gang leaders don’t say is that it can be a violent life for gang members, who are always looking over their shoulder for attacks from gang rivals. Most murdered gang members didn’t leave their house thinking it would be their last day of life.

Gangs will ruthlessly kill their rivals. Gang members are 60 times more likely to be victims of homicide than a regular person in the community.

It is a tragic waste of young lives.


Jail and death are not the only dangers of gang involvement. Another real risk is that of getting shot and ending up confined to a wheelchair or bed due to paralysis.


There are a surprising number of gang members that are now confined to wheelchairs after being shot. Their life has changed completely. They must rely on others for help, with just about everything. Many won’t ever have a family and those that already did, can’t play catch with their child or do many other things people take for granted.

Most are now ex-gang members. Most will tell you that they waited too long.


It is not as hard to get out of a gang as most people think. There may be pressure to stay, but with love, help and support, young people can get away from the gang lifestyle and lead better, safer lives. Often, it can be as simple as not hanging around with gang members and finding new friends and new things to do.

There are other organizations out there that can provide help to gang members and their concerned families (click here to learn more).

 (Images provided by Photostock/ and© Daniel_wiedemann”>Stock;”>Dreamstime  )