The National Gang Center (NGC) conducted an annual survey of law enforcement agencies between 1996–2012 to assess the extent of gang problems by measuring the presence, characteristics, and behaviors of local gangs in jurisdictions throughout the United States. This Web resource contains analysis and findings from the National Youth Gang Surveys (NYGS). Numerous charts and descriptions are provided as a resource for understanding gang problems.
There is no widely or universally accepted definition of a “gang” among law enforcement agencies — see NGC’s compilation of gang-related legislation. To capture the varying yet largely overlapping definitional criteria across jurisdictions, the NYGS requests recipients to report information for youth gangs, defined as “a group of youths or young adults in your jurisdiction that you or other responsible persons in your agency or community are willing to identify as a ‘gang.’” Respondents are requested to exclude motorcycle gangs, hate or ideology groups, prison gangs, and exclusively adult gangs from survey responses since these latter groups are characteristically distinct from youth gangs. In addition, the terms “youth” and “juvenile” are not synonymous. The term “youth” is more general than the term “juvenile,” which is a legal designation statutorily defined within each state.
For further discussion of the definitional considerations pertaining to “youth” and “street” gangs, see “What is a gang?” in NGC’s Frequently Asked Questions section.
Survey Sample and Methodology
The NYGS is based on a nationally representative sample of more than 2,500 law enforcement agencies serving larger cities, suburban counties, smaller cities, and rural counties. The average annual response rate was approximately 85 percent for the entire sample, as well as within each area type. More than 95 percent of the agencies have reported gang-related survey data at least once over the previous three survey cycles.
Agencies included in the two nationally representative NYGS samples are as follows:
2002–2012 NYGS Sample (Current Sample):
- All police departments serving cities with populations of 50,000 or more (n=624).
- All suburban county police and sheriffs’ departments (n=739).
- A randomly selected sample of police departments serving cities with populations between 2,500 and 49,999 (n=543).
- A randomly selected sample of rural county police and sheriffs’ departments (n=492).
1996–2001 NYGS Sample (Former Sample):
- All police departments serving cities with populations of 25,000 or more (n=1,216).
- All suburban county police and sheriffs’ departments (n=661).
- A randomly selected sample of police departments serving cities with populations between 2,500 and 24,999 (n=398).
- A randomly selected sample of rural county police and sheriffs’ departments (n=743).
Hereafter, larger cities refers to cities with populations of 50,000 or more, and smaller cities refers to cities with populations between 2,500 and 49,999. Study population refers to the entire group of jurisdictions that the current sample represents; that is, all jurisdictions served by county law enforcement agencies and all jurisdictions with populations of 2,500 or more served by city (e.g., municipal) police departments.
Sixty-three percent of the agencies in the 2002–2012 NYGS sample were also surveyed from 1996 to 2001, permitting a longitudinal assessment of gang problems in a large number of jurisdictions.
Standard questions asked each year include the following in these charts: the presence or absence of gang activity, the number of gangs and gang members, the number of homicides involving gangs, and the assessment of the gang problem from the previous year.
Other questions asked are also included in these charts; however, these questions are asked intermittently and not every survey year. The questions include year of gang onset, demographic characteristics of gang members, gang unit operation, gang member migration patterns, gang-related offenses, definitional characteristics of a gang, and designations of gang membership.
- Prevalence of Gang Problems in Study Population
- Prevalence of Gang Problems by Area Type
- Percent Change in Estimated Number of Gang-Problem Jurisdictions
- Consistency of Gang Problems by Area Type
- Prevalence of Gang Member Migration
- Likelihood of Gang Member Migration in Nonmetropolitan Areas
- Influential Factors on Gang Member Migration
- Age of Gang Members
- Age of Gang Members by Area Type
- Gender of Gang Members
- Gangs With Female Members
- Race/Ethnicity of Gang Members
- Race/Ethnicity of Gang Members by Area Type
- Gang-Related Crime
- Factors Influencing Gang-Related Violence
- Regularly Record Any Criminal Offense as “Gang-Related”