Gangs may consist of a few individuals with little organization who commit minor crimes to highly organized groups with numerous members involved in sophisticated transnational crimes and criminal enterprise. Gangs form for many different reasons - including profit through criminal activity, territorial claims, protection, culture or community history.
Gangs that commit most quality of life crimes that affect communities and neighborhoods are criminal street gangs. In Texas, a criminal street gang is defined as three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol, or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities. Source: Texas Penal Code 71.01 (d)
Criminal street gangs are often organized through a structure of subgroups known as sets or cliques. Their formation is sometimes based on the characteristics of nationally recognized gangs whose perceived notoriety makes them appealing for copying.
These local gangs are usually not directly associated with the nationally recognized gangs, but are highly influenced by them. They often adopt derivatives of their names and use their indicators such as hand signs, symbols, colors, and graffiti. There are also some local street gangs who form with very little to no influence from nationally recognized gangs and develop their own characteristics and indicators.
Levels of Involvement
There are several levels of involvement within a criminal street gang starting with the youngest recruits to the adults who make up the gang leadership.
Recruit/Wanna Be - Youth who are not yet initiated into the gang. Usually a period of time to test the commitment of the recruit to serve the gang.
Gang Member - An individual who has been initiated into the gang and is now an active member who represents the gang through its colors, signs, and symbols, and serves the gang in its activities.
Original Gangster ("OG", Veterano) - An individual who has been in the gang for an extended period of time and is committed to the gang lifestyle.
A gang member is a person who admits to gang membership or meets two or more of the following criteria:
- Is identifiable as a member of a gang by a reliable informant or source.
- Is observed to associate on a regular basis with known gang members.
- Has several arrests or contacts with police in the presence of known gang members.
- Resides in or frequents a particular gang area, and affects their style of dress, use of hand signs, symbols, tattoos and/or other identifiable characteristics.
- Appears in photographs or other electronic or digital media with known gang members.
- Corresponds with known gang members or writes and/or receives correspondence about gang activity; or is in possession of gang or gang-related documents or correspondence; or name appears on a gang document or gang related graffiti.
- Has a past criminal record for gang activity (from any law enforcement source).
- Is identified as a member of a Corrections Department Security Threat Group
When young people decide to join a gang, they must first be initiated. There are several methods used by different gangs involving physical and emotional abuse.
Beat - Clicked - Jumped In - An initiation where a recruit fights multiple members of the gang all at once. The fights can last anywhere from seconds to several minutes and they are violent, physical beatings.
Sexed In - Some gangs initiate females by requiring them to have sex with all the ranking members or members who are present at the initiation. When a female chooses this path into the gang, she is usually not respected by its members. Girls can also choose to be jumped or clicked in.
Commit a Crime - Gangs may also require recruits to commit some type of crime to get into the gang.
Born In - Recruits who have parents, siblings or other relatives in a gang, or who have grown up in or around the gang can be considered born in members. They have had so much exposure to the gang that it is expected that they will join. Born in recruits may or may not have to go through a beat in.
Blessed In - Being blessed in also has ties to gang involved families. The process seldom involves physical beatings and instead involves reciting gang prayers, readings or traditions.
- Graffiti or tattoos depicting numbers, initials, street names, geographic areas, stars, pitchforks, three dots, crowns
- Wearing clothing of all one color
- Wearing and/or displaying bandanas
- Use of an unfamiliar nickname
- Signs of drug/alcohol use
- Signs of physical abuse
- Truancy and/or poor grades at school
- Discipline problems at home and/or school