This section introduces the studies reviewed and includes the definition of urban gangs used in each study. It should be noted that some studies and police departments use the term "street gang" synonymously with "urban gang". These two terms will be used interchangeably throughout this report. Hebert, Hamel and Savoie conducted a comprehensive review of Canadian and American literature on six gang-based topics, including the definition of a urban gang, and illustrated six different types of gangs.
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Gangs are groups of children, adolescents and young adults who share a common identity and are involved in wrongful or delinquent activities. Most gang members tend to be adolescents or young adults, however, recent trends indicate that children are being recruited into gangs at a much earlier age, some when they are in elementary school. Traditionally, gang activity has been confined to cities but gangs are no longer just in large cities, they also exist in smaller towns and rural areas. Gangs can include people of every gender, race, culture and socioeconomic group. Some children and adolescents are motivated to join a gang for a sense of connection or to define a new sense of who they are.
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First, it suggests a common feature of gangs: They commonly have a street presence. Street socialization is a key feature of adolescent gangs. The ongoing commission of these offenses consequently instills fear among residents, undermining informal social control mechanisms within the community. Responses from law enforcement agencies in the National Youth Gang Survey NYGS indicate that among the characteristics of greatest importance in defining a gang are group identity and criminal activity, a group name, and accompanying signs and symbols that outwardly represent the group to others.
Respondents provided information regarding the estimated ages of gang members in their jurisdictions. Analysis for this section pertains only to law enforcement agencies reporting gang problems. Please see the Prevalence of Gang Problems section. Respondents provided information regarding the gender of gang members in their jurisdictions.