Gang Violence

What is a Gang?

The definition of a gang varies somewhat by state and local jurisdiction.  In Florida, the legal definition for a criminal gang is defined in Florida Statutes 874.  However, the following criteria are commonly accepted:

  • The group has three or more members.
  • Members of the group identify themselves with a name, colors, symbols, or any other means which identifies them as being a distinct group.
  • The group has some level of organization and leadership.
  • Members see themselves as a gang and want others to recognize them as a gang.
  • The group creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
  • When its members commit criminal acts to further their group’s social or economic status, they are considered a criminal gang.

The increasing prevalence of criminal gangs in our communities poses a growing threat to our safety and security in Florida.  In 2010, law enforcement identified and documented 1,400 criminal gangs throughout the urban, suburban, and rural regions of Florida.  According to the Florida Gang Reduction 2011 Annual Report, the number of documented criminal gangs in the 4 counties of South East Florida is 450, with a total of 13,002 gang persons.

Gang crime is extremely costly. Criminal gangs too often spread fear and violence in our neighborhoods making our parks unusable, disrupting safe passages to school and work, hindering legitimate businesses including tourism, and decreasing property values.  The consequences of gang crimes place an excessive burden on our criminal justice and healthcare systems. Effective solutions to break the cycle of violent gang activity must begin with the active engagement of city, county, and state government, community and faith-based organizations, schools, parents, youth, private residents, and our local law enforcement.

Gang Awareness

Gangs and gang violence are on the rise in Florida, as in many parts of the country.  Gangs members participate in a variety of anti-social behaviors, including robbery, larceny, battery, sexual assault, damage to property, illegal drug trafficking, retail theft, murder, gang wars and other criminal activity.  The law enforcement and prosecution component of the Statewide Gang Reduction Strategy is only part of the solution.  Solutions must be addressed with prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation measures along with enforcement of the laws, punishment, and incarceration.

Parents, educators, and communities as a whole, must band together to influence the problems known to lead to gang crime and violence.  Together, through committed partnerships, we must expose the destructive reality of gang culture, shut off the pipeline that delivers kids to gangs, take steps to prevent gang formation, and break the cycle of gang violence.  The first step is awareness.

This information was excerpted from the Attorney General of Florida Gang Reduction strategy.