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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information Contact:
June 30, 2005

Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General

 

Lee Moore
609-292-4791
Capt. Albert Della Fave
609-882-2000 ext. 6514

 

AG Harvey Announces Gang Survey Results:
N.J. Home to 17,000 Street Gang Members

>> 2004 State Police Gang Bureau Survey Report

TRENTON – Attorney General Peter C. Harvey today released the results of a new, statewide report on illegal street gang activity that places the number of street gang members operating in New Jersey at nearly 17,000, and the number of gangs at nearly 700.

Based on a 2004 State Police Gang Bureau survey of law enforcement personnel in the 479 municipalities that maintain full-time police departments – 91 percent of those departments responded -- the survey provides the most comprehensive, law-enforcement-based estimate of street gang membership in New Jersey to date.

Attorney General Harvey said that, in addition to providing a statistical picture of the street gang presence in New Jersey, the 2004 survey offers compelling anecdotal evidence that gang activity is on the rise statewide. For example:

  • In 44 percent of the municipalities in which an active street gang presence was reported, gang activity was said by police to have increased compared to the previous year.
  • In 37 percent of municipalities that reported no street gang presence during a similar survey done in 2001, police now report that there is gang activity taking place.
  • In 39 percent of responding suburban municipalities, police reported the presence of gangs in their towns, an increase of 27 percent compared to 2001.

“We have made many gang-related arrests, and conducted many successful gang-related prosecutions. We have launched a number of gang-prevention initiatives that are already making a difference in young lives. Despite these efforts, New Jersey continues to have a significant problem with street gangs and related community violence, ” said Attorney General Harvey during a press conference today at the Hughes Justice Complex.

Joining Harvey at the press conference were State Police Superintendent Col. Joseph R. Fuentes and Division of Criminal Justice Director Vaughn L. McKoy. Also attending were Dr. Duane Dyson, Chairman of the Violence Prevention Institute, and Dr. Robert Johnson, Chairman of Pediatrics and Director of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

“Too many young people are being maimed or killed in gang-related violence, and too many innocent citizens are being impacted when that violence takes place on the street, which it often does,” said the Attorney General. “Collectively, we have to stop being reactive to the gang problem, and begin to address it through comprehensive and collaborative prevention strategies. Of course, we cannot begin to effectively deal with the gang problem until we fully understand it, which surveys like this are helping us to do.”

In conducting the 2004 gang survey, said Superintendent Fuentes, State Police asked municipal law enforcement agencies to respond to a detailed questionnaire about gang activity in their communities. Some of the surveys were done in the form of a telephone interview between State Police personnel and the chief of a department, or the chief’s designee. Other surveys were done by mail, although the questions posed were the same in both cases.

Current Gang Membership

Fuentes said that, according to the 2004 survey, there are 28 gangs in New Jersey made up of 100 or more members. Those gangs account for more than half of all gang members throughout the state. The survey results also indicate that, despite evidence of gang proliferation in the suburbs, inner-city neighborhoods continue to be the principal home ground for street gangs. Approximately 70 percent of gang members reported in the 2004 survey were reported by police in New Jersey’s urban centers.

The three gangs consistently mentioned by local police agencies as their most serious problem were the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings. Those three gangs also have the largest estimated aggregate membership: Bloods (4,000), Latin Kings (2,345) and Crips (2,100).

According to other survey results:

  • Approximately 17 percent of all reported homicides in New Jersey involve gang members.
  • There are more than an estimated 2,300 gang members in New Jersey under age 15. Statewide, 18-to-24-year-olds form the largest single sub-group of gang members, followed by 15-to-17-year-olds, and then those older than 24.
  • Within the estimated statewide membership of 16,700 gang members, the ratio of male gang members to female gang members is about 9-to-1. However, 22 street gangs were reported to have a female membership of 25 percent or more.
  • The majority of identified street gangs – about 76 percent – are made up of members from the same racial and ethnic backgrounds. (30 percent black, 29 percent hispanic, 15 percent white, less than 1 percent Asian). Multi-racial or multi-ethnic gangs made up about 14 percent of all gangs reported in the 2004 survey. For the remainder of street gangs identified by police, no information was provided on racial/ethnic composition.

The former head of the State Police gang unit, Fuentes noted that is sometimes difficult to obtain reliable information about gang activity. For example, a group of lawbreakers that appears to function as a street gang may disband due to poor organization or lack of sustained interest, only to re-emerge later and once again become active. Other street gangs, meanwhile, may operate in multiple jurisdictions at the same time, or on a shifting basis, making it difficult to determine if their membership constitutes one outlaw gang or several.

“Developing reliable information that helps us understand gang activity -- and then keeping that information current -- is the challenge that confronts us,” said Fuentes. “By its very nature, the process of quantifying the gang problem, identifying regions of the state where gangs are most prevalent, and understanding the nature of gang activity is an inexact science. However, this survey provides a great deal of useful information on gangs for law enforcement, policy makers, and the public at large.”

Dr. Dyson, of the Violence Prevention Institute, said such information is essential to targeting street gang education and violence-prevention-related efforts.

“The problem of youth violence and gang involvement is a complicated issue that has the potential to destroy the fabric of our communities and this nation,” said Dyson. “As community leaders, we must fight this plague with all available resources, starting at the grass roots level. Youth violence must be dealt with through intervention and education. If we choose not to do so, there will be a continuing cycle of despair.”

Dr. Johnson, the UMDNJ Director of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, said that “no teenager is immune to the seductive power of gangs and gang membership. “

”For many young people, these often violent social structures provide a powerful response to their need to belong and be accepted,” said Dr. Johnson. “In view of this reality, we need to find more and better ways to strengthen families and strengthen communities. Stepped up enforcement efforts alone, no matter how vigorous or well-intended, will not get the job done.”

Comparison With Prior Gang Surveys

In 2001, a State Police street gang survey found there were an estimated 7,500 gang members and nearly 300 gangs – fewer than half the number of gang members and gangs reported in the 2004 survey. However, Attorney General Harvey urged perspective when considering the degree of increase suggested by numbers reported in the 2001 and 2004 surveys.

While the newest survey results provide convincing statistical and anecdotal evidence that street gang activity is on the rise, he said, some of the stark contrast in data between the 2001 and 2004 studies may also have to do with fundamental differences in survey methodology, and in levels of police participation.

For example, the 2001 gang survey excluded from consideration any motorcycle gangs, hate or “ideology” groups and/or prison gangs. The 2004 survey more broadly defined gangs -- consistent with language drawn from the New Jersey Criminal Code -- as “three or more people who are associated in fact ... people who have a common group name, identifying sign, tattoos or other indicia of association, and who have engaged in criminal offenses while engaged in gang-related activity.”

Law enforcement participation levels were also significantly higher in the 2004 survey compared with 2001.

Three years ago, the State Police survey sample consisted of about 200 police departments chosen because one or more of their personnel had attended State-Police-sponsored gang awareness training.

In 2004, the target survey sample was expanded to include each of the 479 full-time police departments in the State. Of those, 439 responded, while 40 departments either did not reply in time, or simply did not respond.

“While it is by no means the final word on the subject, this survey is vital, because it is helping us to develop as comprehensive and accurate a picture of street gang activity as possible,” said Division of Criminal Justice Director McKoy. “Whether we are talking about targeted street gang enforcement activity, or about gang awareness and prevention programs, the first step for law enforcement is to have a reliable frame of reference.”

Said Attorney General Harvey, “I applaud the full-time municipal police departments of New Jersey, because their level of responsiveness to the survey was excellent. With relatively few exceptions, local law enforcement has demonstrated a readiness to work with us cooperatively, and candidly, to identify the scope and nature of the gang problem, which is the first step toward effectively combating it.”

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