Last Updated: 2010-01-20

Definition

Virginia State Law 18.2-46.1 defines a criminal street gang as an ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal that has

  • one of its primary objectives or activities the commission of one or more predicate criminal acts
  • an identifiable sign or symbol
  • members individually or collectively engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity

Identifying Gangs

Gangs can be organized around race, ethnic group, territory, and money making activities. Turf is an area of town that the gang claims as theirs. They also are identified by markings/tattoos of gang symbols or names, as well as have special handshakes or hand signs.

Why Young People Join Gangs

Most gang members are males ranging in age from 8 to 22. The reasons young people join gangs vary, but the most common ones are to belong to a group, receive protection, be more popular, be with friends, end boredom, earn money or even for excitement.

Potential Risks of Joining a Gang

  • You may be killed or injured.
  • You could end up in prison.
  • You could become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.
  • You could become a school dropout.
  • Once you are in a gang, it is not easy to get out.

What to Do

  • Educate yourself about gang behavior.
  • Talk to your child.
  • Keep track of your child's friends.
  • Monitor your child's clothes.
  • Remove any gang graffiti in your child's room.

What to Look For

  • Changes in child's behavior or style of dress
  • Suspected drug use
  • Phone threats to family (from rival gangs)
  • Photographs of child displaying gang hand signs, weapons, cash drugs, gang graffiti
  • Graffiti in or around residence, especially in child's room
  • Unexplained injuries
  • New nickname
  • Tattoos or branding

These indicators do not mean a child is in a gang. But if you spot one or more of them, start asking questions.

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