Kevin Johnson, USA Today, January 29, 2009
Criminal gangs in the USA have swelled to an estimated 1 million members responsible for up to 80% of crimes in communities across the nation, according to a gang threat assessment compiled by federal officials.
The major findings in a report by the Justice Department’s National Gang Intelligence Center, which has not been publicly released, conclude gangs are the “primary retail-level distributors of most illicit drugs” and several are “capable” of competing with major U.S.-based Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.
“A rising number of U.S.-based gangs are seemingly intent on developing working relationships” with U.S. and foreign drug-trafficking organizations and other criminal groups to “gain direct access to foreign sources of illicit drugs,” the report concludes.
The gang population estimate is up 200,000 since 2005.
‘Growing threat’ on the move
The report says about 900,000 gang members live “within local communities across the country,” and about 147,000 are in U.S. prisons or jails.
Among the report’s other findings:
oLast year, 58% of state and local law enforcement agencies reported that criminal gangs were active in their jurisdictions, up from 45% in 2004.
oMore gangs use the Internet, including encrypted e-mail, to recruit and to communicate with associates throughout the U.S. and other countries.
oGangs, including outlaw motorcycle groups, “pose a growing threat” to law enforcement authorities along the U.S.-Canadian border. The U.S. groups are cooperating with Canadian gangs in various criminal enterprises, including drug smuggling.
Assistant FBI Director Kenneth Kaiser, the bureau’s criminal division chief, says gangs have largely followed the migration paths of immigrant laborers.
MS-13 far-flung from L.A. incubator
One group that continues to spread despite law enforcement efforts is the violent Salvadoran gang known as MS-13.
Kaiser says the street gang is in 42 states, up from 33 in 2005. “Enforcement efforts have been effective to a certain extent, but they (gang members) keep moving,” he says.
Among law enforcement efforts:
Davidson County, Tenn., Sheriff Daron Hall, whose jurisdiction includes Nashville, says MS-13 started growing there about five years ago, corresponding with an influx of immigrant labor.
Last April, county officials began checking the immigration status of all arrestees. “We know we have removed about 100 gang members, including MS-13,” to U.S. authorities for deportation, Hall says.
Escorza [Aaron Escorza, chief of the FBI’s MS-13 National Gang Task Force] says a “revolving door” on the border has kept the gang’s numbers steady–about 10,000 in the U.S.–even as many illegal immigrant members are deported.
The FBI, which has two agents in El Salvador to help identify and track members in Central America and the United States, plans to dispatch four more agents to Guatemala and Honduras, Escorza says.