Throughout history gangs have developed, multiplied, and mutated into many forms. Today one of law enforcement’s biggest problems is the inability of law enforcement intelligence to accurately estimate the number of gangs and gang members. There are several reasons for this, but the key one is that we have no universally accepted definition of a gang.

In the general sense, everyone in law enforcement is a gang member. The dictionary describes a gang as “a group of persons working together for a common purpose.” The men who work to lay track for the railroad are called a gang. The wooden bridge used by the crew to unload cargo from the ship is called a “gang”-plank. So don’t let it bother you when critics or cons say that you are a member of a gang.

The more common use of the term “gang” is used to describe criminal gangs. The California Penal Code defines criminal gangs as “Any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, …having a common name, or common identifying sign or symbol, and whose members individually or collectively engage in, or have engaged in, a pattern of criminal activity.”

Your state or county may describe this criminal gang in a slightly different way but here are the main points:

• It must have three, or more, members.

• It must be identified with a common name sign or symbol

• It must engage in a pattern of criminal activity while alone or together in a group that somehow benefits the gang

The California Penal Code lists 30 specific crimes in PC 186.22 that are considered predicate acts in this pattern of criminal conduct committed by gang members to benefit the gang.

Gangs of today can be divided further into traditional and non-traditional types. The traditional gangs are those that are territorial or claim turf. This would include your Hispanic “Cholos,” the African-American Bloods and Crips, and Asian Gangs like the Tiny Rascal Gangsters.

The non-traditional gangs do not claim turf so much but will claim an area like the South Bay, or a specific spot like the skateboard park or the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

This would be the Goths, Skinheads, Punks, Party Crews, and Ravers. In California all of these gangs operate under control of the big four Prison Gangs: the Mexican Mafia (or eme), the Aryan Brotherhood (the AB or the Brand), the Nuestra Familia (the NF), and the Black Guerrilla Family (the BGF). Add to this the organized crime groups, drug cartels, and political and religious subversive groups and terrorists. All of which could be prosecuted as gangs.

This is a good thing.

The very nature and structure of these gangs makes them perfect targets for investigations and prosecution utilizing the criminal conspiracy and Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations or RICO statutes.

Although these gang members make up only a small percentage of the population even in the worst neighborhood, they are responsible for the great majority of the crime and death.

Get to know which gangs operate in your area and start your own gang notebook.

Join a Gang Investigators Organization in your state and buy the County Jail Deputies a cup of coffee so you can pick their brains.

Arm your primary defense weapon with some gang knowledge.


Richard Valdemar
Richard Valdemar

Sergeant (Ret.)

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

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Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

View Bio