Gang membership is rising even as murder and other violent crime have declined substantially in much of the nation, says USA Today. Gangs have grown to about 1 million members, says the federal government’s most recent count in 2009, and law enforcement officials say that number is increasing. The 25 percent jump in the membership ranks from 2005, recorded by the National Gang Threat Assessment, defies the steep decline in violent crime.
“With gangs usually comes a lot of violence; we’re looking at this very closely,” says John Moore, director of the National Gang Center, an arm of the Justice Department. He says national surveys of gang membership continue to show growth. Just as a spike in crime did not follow the nationwide financial crisis, Moore says, violent crime has not followed expected patterns linked to the proliferation of gangs. In Chicago, where gang membership is up to 105,000 this year from about 70,000 in 2000, murders are on pace to drop to the lowest levels since 1965. The 343 murders this year are eight fewer than this time last year. Among the reasons, Police Commander Leo Schmitz says, is that some gang leaders – including those ordering murders and other retaliatory attacks – are serving long prison terms.