The Gang's All Here: Companies That Aren't Aware of the Risk Posed by Gangs May Expose Themselves to Increased Crime, Violence, and Related Liability

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Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here sang Carmen Miranda in the classic 1943 movie. Unfortunately, today, the gangs are indeed all here, and they are a far cry from the friendly fellows referred to by Miranda. According to recent reports by the U.S. Department of Justice, gangs are active in every state. There are some 31,000 known gangs with an estimated 846,000 members.

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But that's probably a low-end estimate, according to Dr. George Knox, director of the National Gang Crime Research Center (NGCRC). Knox notes that the government numbers do not account for gang denial, and they generally use a definition of gang member that is limited by inclusion of terms like "juvenile" or "youth." If racist extremists and groups like outlaw motorcycle gangs were factored in, says Knox, the gang member population in America would be closer to 1.5 million. This growing gang population represents a serious threat for schools, public facilities, businesses, and the security professionals charged with assessing and countering threats against these sites.

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THE RISK. According to the FBI, 12 percent of all "Index Crimes" (defined as violent crimes like murder and rape and serious felonies involving property, such as robbery) are committed by gang members, and 75 percent of gang members have police records. The rate of violent offenses for gang members is three times as high as those for nongang members.

That may not be surprising, considering the nature of gangs. What may be a surprise to businesses, however, is that adults are involved in 46 percent of gang incidents. And while some gang members undoubtedly "age out" of gang activity, others enter the work-place with no intention of leaving behind the gang life and the related violence and criminal activity.

Businesses can be--and have been--the victim of internal theft, fraud, computer crime, and large-scale drug dealing spearheaded by employees who are gang members. Having gang members in the work force also increases the potential for violence on the job, as research has shown gang members have greater access to weapons and are more likely to use them in the commission of a crime. They are more likely to have access to explosives and to use those as well. Gang members are also far more likely to sell drugs while in a legitimate job. (The NGCRC has conducted survey research with incarcerated gang members and found evidence of these types of activities.)

Gang members can also cause problems for businesses simply by targeting them as a place to hang out, thereby attracting to the site potential violence from their rivals. Premises liability law allows those injured by gangs on a company's property to sue for damages in civil court.

Serving as a litigation expert, I have encountered numerous cases of gang loitering and subsequent violence at venues such as taverns, bowling alleys, schools, dance clubs, concerts, housing complexes, entertainment centers, and fast-food restaurants. And juries are increasingly finding that businesses have an affirmative duty to protect employees and patrons from foreseeable gang-related violence. In one courtroom verdict, for example, a major fast-food chain was held liable for more than $7 million because of gang activity at a suburban Illinois restaurant that resulted in the shooting of a young man and his subsequent life confinement to a wheelchair.

Gang structure. There are several so-called "super-gangs" that have been the topic of movies and music in recent years. These gangs are the well-known Crips and Bloods and the two major gang alliances: People and Folk. Crips and Bloods are best known as West Coast gangs, but they have now migrated throughout America.

The People and Folk represent respective gang "nations" or alliances that were formed in the prison system and comprise several groups. For example, the Gangster Disciples are the largest gang in the Folk nation and comprise some 30,000 members primarily in the Chicago area and the Midwest. …