What is a Gang?

A gang is generally defined as an organized group of criminals. 

What gangs do?

Much of their time is spent on planning or engaging in criminal activity.  When they get together, there is potential for violent crime.  The violence is indiscriminate, unpredictable and can claim innocent victims.

Criminal activity can include but is not limited to:

  • Assaults
  • Break and Enters
  • Auto Thefts
  • Robbery, including Home Invasions
  • Extortion
  • Frauds
  • Thefts
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Weapons Offences (which can include bats, guns, knives and machetes)

How to identify street gang members

With the exception of traditional street gang tattoos, there are few, if any, single indicators which can be taken as airtight guarantees that a particular young person is involved in street gang activity.  The following list can serve as a guide.  However, if several of these become observable, they should serve a s a red flag, and professional intervention may be sought.

  • Extreme loyalty/exclusivity to core group of friends. 
  • Secretiveness/defensiveness about activities with friends. 
  • Disengagement from family. 
  • Loss of interest in normal activities and interests. 
  • Delinquency issues:  problems with school, police, etc. 
  • Out of control behaviour:  curfew, runaway, defiant. 
  • Use of new and unfamiliar slang. 
  • Dress:  choice in wearing only one colour all the time. 
  • Tattoos/Drawing on self or clothing. 
  • Graffiti on clothing/notebooks/baseball caps/bedroom walls and furniture. 
  • Sudden appearance of unexplained money/possessions.
  • Flashing hand signs (hand gestures) to friends (or even when alone). 
  • Use of new nickname, referring to friends by nickname.
  • New interest in "Gangsta" lifestyle, including style of dress, music, movies, literature, etc. 
  • Initial onset of drug and alcohol use, or increased usage, is often seen in conjunction with street gang involvement.

What Can Communities Do To Combat Street Gangs

  • Contact your local social and economic services (identified by some researchers as the most effective strategy) including special schools, training and job programs (especially critical for older street gang members who want to leave gangs); contact employment centres, youth employment centres, child and family services, municipal/provincial/federal government representatives.
  • Social intervention (outreach geared toward mainstreaming fringe youth) work with local service groups to get kids off the streets e.g. Kiwanis Clubs.
  • Gang suppression (contact police to report street gang activity in your neighbourhood without delay; report and remove graffiti in your neighbourhood).

A community has the greatest success in combating street gangs when preventive measures are aggressively instituted before youth move beyond stage one. Stage two requires creative intervention measures.  However, in no community where street gangs have established firm roots have street gangs ever been eradicated.

Report illegal activities you may see.    

Contact the Hamilton Police Service at 905-546-4925, Crime Stoppers at 905-522-TIPS or the graffiti hotline at 905-546-4723. Help give the message that street gangs will NOT be tolerated in your community.

Related Content

Street Gangs vs. Random Groups
Street gang mentality
Street gang culture

gangs.pdf (293 KB)