A common definition used to describe a gang is: a group of three or more individuals who engage in criminal activity and identify themselves with a common name or sign (definition taken from the following website: www.ncjrs.gov - National Criminal Justice Reference Service).
Whether you define gangs using these definitions, or one of the many similar definitions available, it is agreed upon that gangs are a dangerous part of our community, which affects all aspects of our lives. The graffiti from a gang damages property, increases insurance premium rates, and brings down property values. Drive-by shootings endanger innocent citizens, and wearing the “wrong” color can put you or your children at risk for harassment, intimidation or even of being assaulted.
Salem is not immune to the problems of gangs. Gangs have been in Salem since the early 1990’s. They started with a group who called themselves M.M.P, and was made up of mainly high school students from the north area of Salem. Soon after, more gangs were formed, including West Side Mafia Crips, Asian Pride Only, and 18th St. gang. These gangs soon started having conflicts. In 1994, the Salem Police Department formed a gang team to try and combat the growing gang violence. 1998 was the most violent year for gang related crimes, with 11 gang related homicides, and numerous other assaults and drive by shootings.
In 1999, an inter-agency gang task force was formed. It included members from several local law enforcement agencies. That task force was able to combine their criminal intelligence and resources to combat the gang violence. They were so successful that in 2002, the group was disbanded.
Salem PD still maintains a gang team to investigate and pro-actively reduce gang related violence in the Salem area, but the resources and manpower are limited. From 2002-2005, gang growth in the Salem area slowed down. Recently, however, there has been an upswing in recruiting for the local gangs. This upswing is due to older gang members being incarcerated, dropping out or being less active.
What can we, as a community, do to lessen or eliminate the impact of gangs in our area?
The solution to solving the gang problem is a community effort, which includes members from Law Enforcement, Parole and Probation, Community Groups, Schools, and Parents. Of these groups, parents, or other significant adults in a child’s life, play a key role in preventing children from joining gangs. Research has shown that the most important influence in a child’s life is the child’s parent, or other significant adult figure. (found in the article www.helpingamericasyouth.gov – Facts about America’s Youth.). The questions below will help you recognize some of the signs of gang activity, and give suggestions on how to keep kids safe. Click on any question to read more about it.
1. What gangs do we have in Salem? How do you identify what is gang related?
2. Why do kids join gangs? What are the risk factors?
3. How can we prevent children from joining gangs? What are the protective factors?
4. What resources are available to parents to further educate themselves?