Violent Street Gangs in America

Statement of
Steven R. Wiley, Chief
Violent Crimes and
Major Offenders Section
Federal Bureau of
Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate

Washington, D.C.

April 23, 1997

Good morning, I am pleased to appear today on behalf of the FBI to provide you with information concerning the seriousness of the gang problem in America.

Two of the basic obstacles in addressing gang activity in communities around the Nation is the absence of a universal definition for gangs, and the difficulty in documenting the nature and extent of gang related criminal activity. While some communities acknowledge difficulties in dealing with the problem, they fail to concede that they have a gang problem until the gangs become firmly entrenched.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a Violent Street Gang/Drug Enterprise as a criminal enterprise having an organizational structure, acting as a continuing criminal conspiracy, which employs violence and any other criminal activity to sustain the enterprise.

The term street gang is the term preferred by key local law enforcement agencies because it includes juveniles and adults, and designates the location of gangs and most of its criminal behavior. A street gang is group of people that form an allegiance based on various social needs and engage in acts injurious to public health and safety. Members of street gangs engage in (or have engaged in) gang-focused criminal activity either individually or collectively, they create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation within the community.

Street gangs have been documented in cities in the United States throughout most of the country's history, but crime surveys and statistics suggest that gangs are posing a more serious crime problem than in the past. In some cities, such as Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California, gangs are credited with an alarming share of violent crime, especially homicides. And while reports conflict about the extent to which gangs play an organized role in drug trafficking, the vast majority of gang cases investigated by the FBI revealed that drug trafficking was the primary criminal enterprise that supported the gang, however was not necessarily the sole purpose for the gang's existence.

Gangs have been involved with the lower levels of the drug trade for many years, but their participation skyrocketed with the arrival of "crack" cocaine. Almost overnight, a major industry was born, with outlets in every neighborhood, tens of thousands of potential new customers and thousands of sales jobs available. In slightly over a decade, street gangs have become highly involved in drug trafficking at all levels. Intelligence developed through investigations has revealed extensive interaction among individuals belonging to gangs across the Nation. This interaction does not take the conceptual form of traditional organized crime. It is more a loose network of contacts and associations that come together as needed to support individual business ventures.

There are however, some street gangs that possess structured organization in their drug operations. In cities such as Chicago and New Haven, the Black Gangster Disciple Nation, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings have a more recognized organizational structure, funneling profits upward through the organization.

Street gang-related violence and drug activity, however, are not necessarily synonymous. While street gangs may specialize in entrepreneurial activities like drug dealing, their gang-related lethal violence is more likely to grow out of turf conflicts than from the entrepreneurial activity. Drug markets indirectly influence violence by bringing rival gangs members into proximity with one another, as most street gang violence involves intergang conflicts.

By far the most visible and frightening of gang crimes is murder. Contrary to popular belief, most murders committed by gang members are not random shootings nor are they direct disputes over drugs or some other crime. While those types of gang homicides do occur, most are the product of old-fashioned fights over turf, status and revenge. Drive-by shootings and other confrontations of this kind typically involve small sets of gang members acting more or less on their own, not large groups representing an entire gang. But each attack creates a chain reaction of complicity, vengeance and commitment.

A study conducted by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority focused on intra-gang, inter-gang and non-gang member victimization. The study examined 956 street gang-related homicides which occurred in Chicago, Illinois, between 1987 and 1994. Of the 956 street gang-related homicides, 10.8 percent were determined to be intragang murders, 74.8 percent were intergang murders, and 14.4 percent were murders of non-gang victims by a gang member. Gang members, male and female alike, commit crimes in numbers far out of proportion to their share of the general population. Consistently, more than half of all gang members tend to be repeat offenders.

In the latter part of the 1980's this country was impacted by the migration of inner-city gang members across America. This migration from metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Chicago, set in motion a social phenomenon of violence and anti-authority defiance among youth. Fueled primarily by family relocation rather than a desire to expand into new criminal markets, the migration drastically altered the violent crime problem of communities across the Nation.

The National Drug Intelligence Center, commonly known as NDIC, completed a National Street Gang Report in June 1996. The study was conducted by NDIC's Violent Crimes/Gang Program in an attempt to evaluate the relationship between drugs and gang-related activity and the violent crime that results when these two factors are present. The study is also a useful tool to gauge the level at which nationally recognized street gangs have successfully established foot holds in communities where heretofore, gang activity was nonexistent. In order to obtain a foundation of information regarding gang activity from a national perspective, NDIC surveyed municipal and county law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.

Based upon a review of the survey responses received from 301 law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, NDIC noted the following trends:

It is important to note that when a gang has taken the name of a nationally known gang, this does not necessarily indicate that the gang is part of a group with a national infrastructure. According to the NDIC Report the majority of gangs do not have interstate connections or a hierarchical structure. These loosely structured gangs are often more violent and criminally active than the gangs they seek to imitate.

This chart (you will need Adobe Acrobat to view the NDIC chart of responding jurisdictions) represents the base map of all the jurisdictions which responded to the survey. The red, italicized text denotes the cities that reported no organized gang activity.

Violent street gangs have also become a significant problem in Indian Country. On the Navajo Reservation in Arizona alone there are approximately 55 street gangs, many of which have some affiliation with gangs in California, Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Chicago. These gangs have been responsible for a dramatic increase in violent crimes in the Navajo Nation. The Salt-River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Scottsdale, Arizona experienced a significant increase in murders and drive-by shootings between 1993 and 1994. Current trends indicate that Indian gangs are mirroring the gang activity occurring in the communities surrounding Indian Country. Some Indian gang members are claiming allegiance with the larger nationally known gang "nations," such as Folks.

Ethnic gang criminal activity has also been increasing during the last few years. Ethnic gangs possess many of the characteristics of the more organized street gangs. The distinction between the two is that ethnic gangs require, as a condition of membership, that their members belong to a particular race or ethnic group. Among ethnic gangs, Jamaican posses and Asian gangs are considered by many law enforcement officials to pose a growing threat.

The current increase in gang activity, including migration into previously gang-free communities, has required Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to adjust resources to deal with the resulting increase in violent crimes and drug trafficking. Until the early 1990s, these problems were deemed to lie largely outside the mandate of federal law enforcement. However, recent efforts and initiatives from federal law enforcement have had an impact in stemming the tide of gang-related crime that is destabilizing urban, suburban, and rural communities.

A new national gang database was designed, and became operational on October 1, 1995. The Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF) is a component of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and is tailored after the NCIC Wanted Persons File records. The system is operated and managed by the FBI with input from an advisory board. The database provides identifying information about gangs and gang members to law enforcement personnel. This information serves to warn law enforcement personnel of the potential danger posed by violent individuals, and promotes the exchange of information about gangs and their members to facilitate criminal investigations. This pointer system acts as an early warning system in apprising local law enforcement agencies of an emerging gang problem.

In November, 1993, the FBI developed a National Gang Strategy in response to the increase in domestic street gang criminal activity. The Bureau's strategy is designed to incorporate the investigative and prosecutive theories of enterprise investigations which have proven to be successful in addressing traditional organized crime. Consistent with the Attorney Generals Anti-Violent Crime Initiative, our strategy combines the efforts of the FBI and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, to identify the major domestic violent street gangs/drug enterprises which pose significant threats to the integrity of our society and pursue these gangs through sustained, proactive, multi-divisional, coordinated investigations that support successful RICO and CCE prosecutions.

Accordingly, we have set forth national priorities with regard to street gang investigations, focusing our resources on those criminal street gangs which have a multi-jurisdictional presence.

The Bureau's Safe Streets Task Forces play a major role in effectuating our National Gang Strategy. Currently, the FBI has 150 Safe Streets Task Forces, as well as a host of ad hoc task forces operating throughout the United States and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Safe Streets Task Forces team FBI Special Agents with state and local officers, and investigative personnel from other Federal agencies including the Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Marshals Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, United States Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. While the vast majority of Safe Streets Task Forces focus on gang related violence in varying degrees, 38 task forces are focusing solely on criminal street gang matters.

The following case summary is an example of what can be achieved utilizing the Enterprise Theory of investigation when targeting criminal street gangs:

In June 1992, the Los Angeles Division of the FBI initiated an investigation focusing on the Grape Street Crips, a violent Los Angeles based street gang. The investigation targeted Wayne Day and Cedric McGill, two of the most successful and notorious drug distributors within the Grape Street Crips.

Through a series of court-authorized wiretaps conducted from June 1995, through December 1995, the FBI determined that Wayne Day and his associates were involved in an extensive interstate drug trafficking effort, with customers in cities throughout the country including Los Angeles, Cleveland, Memphis, Minneapolis, and Jackson, Mississippi. This investigation had been closely coordinated utilizing the "anchor office" approach, and by doing so, resulted in the seizure of numerous drug shipments which originated in LA. For example, seven kilograms of powder cocaine were seized in Memphis, five pounds of cocaine base, or "crack," were seized in Minneapolis; more than 600 grams of "crack" were seized in Vicksburg, Mississippi; and more than one kilogram of "crack" was seized at a Los Angeles bus terminal as the drug couriers were boarding a bus en route to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Moreover, in late November 1995, approximately $460,000 in U.S. currency, 26 kilograms of cocaine, and extensive drug records were seized in LA from a Mexican drug trafficking organization. The organization, headed by Mexican national Nicolas Lopez, had been supplying one of Wayne Day's GSC associates.

The Title III intercepts in Los Angeles facilitated both the Minneapolis and Memphis divisions in developing probable cause to activate spin off Title IIIs.

During the early morning hours of 5/15/96, the LA and Minneapolis (MP) Divisions of the FBI arrested 22 members of the GSC. Those arrested in LA included Wayne Day, commonly referred to as the "Godfather of Watts" in view of the commanding position he occupied in the LA street gang world. For decades, Day has been considered to be untouchable by law enforcement.

To date this investigation has produced the following results:


Currency Seized - $516,930.62
Vehicles Seized - 4
Weapons Seized - 28
Narcotics - 43 Kilograms of Cocaine, 14 lbs. of Amphetamines

In closing, I would like to say that current efforts to stem the spread of gang violence in the United States are having an impact and must continue. Recent crime statistics indicate a continued downward trend in the violent crime rate. Presently, there is an unprecedented level of cooperation between federal law enforcement agencies and our state and local partners as a result of the Attorney General's Anti-Violent Crime Initiative. Law enforcement strategies must be focused and combined with equally important suppression, intervention and prevention programs in order to be successful in dramatically reducing the level of gang violence in America.