Supergangs-Or Organized Crime?

By Baker, Thomas E. | Law & Order, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Supergangs-Or Organized Crime?


Baker, Thomas E., Law & Order


Gang violence accelerated throughout the 1990's -and as a result these organizations have secured an excellent launching platform for the new Millennium.

The competition over drug distribution is a main reason for the increased growth and expansion of gang activities. According to the Interim Survey Report on Gang Migration, over 700 surveyed cities reported experience with some type of gang migration. This represents a dramatic increase from 200 cities in the previous decade. In spite of an intensive anti-gang campaign, law enforcement efforts directed at street gangs have met considerable resistance.

The traditional "West Side Story" portrayal of youth gangs (ages 12-18) remains an obstacle to successful gang intervention and prevention. The criminal activities of young people, battles over "turf" and drive-by shootings obscure patterns of supergang drug trafficking.

Supergangs are large street-based gangs that engage in significant criminal activity; the members may range in age 30's to 50's and have significant criminal records. Law enforcement officers need to distinguish young wannabes from hardcore supergang members.

OG and the wannabes

Supergangs can be described as established "nation" gangs that have hierarchies, board structures, elders and elites. The hardcore members refer to themselves as (OG) or Original Gangsters. OG members are the most active and violent core elements of supergangs.

Supergangs have an organizational structure that supports drug trafficking. However, supergangs and conflict-oriented gangs occasionally intersect and complicate each other. At times they remain independent of each other. The challenge for law enforcement is to separate supergangs and their drug trafficking from conflict-oriented "wannabe" gangs.

The younger "wannabes" may be appraised with social work techniques; however, hardcore older members should be targeted as career criminals. Criminal analysis, organized crime and narcotics investigation techniques should be applied to supergang drug marketing. Organized crime and narcotics investigation techniques are the best strategies for documenting, organizing and forecasting organized supergang criminal activity.

Younger gangs or cliques tend to be less organized than supergangs and their leadership is loosely defined. Often these groups are formed for the promotion of special interests or protection from common enemies. However, they may have loose alliances that shift with changes in defined enemies and territories. Youth gangs are often involved in minor crimes or robberies; they may not be organized around the distribution of commodities like drugs.

Younger groups are likely to engage in fighting; while older members may leave the gang to become involved in crimes that net financial gain. However, they may maintain indirect control through older adolescents. The failure to make the distinction between loosely connected spontaneous gangs or well organized supergangs remains a serious obstacle to effective prevention and intervention.

Some gangs may be only marginally involved in drug trafficking and violence. Criminal analysis and threat assessment may reveal appropriate targets and eliminate others. Social workers and gang unit interventions may achieve some degree of success with "gang wannabes", young self-contained or spontaneous gangs; however, they will need a different approach when confronting drug marketing supergangs. Supergangs should be considered a form of organized crime.

Targeting Career Criminals

The adult criminal leadership of supergangs should be prosecuted as career criminals. Removal of these core gang members reduces their influence on the younger gang wannabes. Furthermore, younger gang members are often recruited (or actively seek jobs) as street dealers. Law enforcement interventions should be directed at the adult core gang membership. Hard core members constitute less than 10% and commit 55% of all of the crimes.

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