U.S. Gang Membership May be Higher than Reported

Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY, Aug. 4

A recent Justice Department report on the threat posed by gangs underestimated the number of gang members nationwide because thousands of police agencies refused to provide information about their jurisdictions.

The surprising lack of cooperation by police agencies means the Justice Department’s estimate of more than 700,000 gang members nationwide could be too low by at least 200,000, said Patrick Word, vice chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network, a group that helps collect data for the Justice Department.

Nearly 20,000 state and local police agencies were contacted to participate in the National Gang Threat Assessment report, but only 455 provided information, said a federal law enforcement official who asked not to be identified to avoid future conflicts with local police in obtaining information. The report did not specify which agencies did not participate, so they could not be contacted for comment.

Many agencies have little contact with gangs. But Word said some withheld information on gangs out of concern that it could alarm the public.

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“A lot of this (reluctance to cooperate) is coming from elected officials who are saying, ‘We don’t want to get our citizens running scared,’ “ Word said.

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