Gangs in the Workplace: Their Structure, Signs, and Practices2013-08-28T16:10:24-04:00

by Joseph J. Bunty Jr.
February 2001

Gang activity is on the rise across the United States. No longer are gangs just a big-city problem. According to nationally recognized gang expert Patrick McCarthy, there are an estimated 25,000 gangs in all fifty states in the US.

Beginning their careers as early as age twelve, gang members have been found in educational intuitions. Gang membership has also escalated from groups of unruly corner punks to organized crime participants with high-tech capabilities. They are linked to industry through employment. According to McCarthy, 77% of all gang members are employed.

Gang Definition:

The Madison, Wisconsin, Police Department Gang Task Force defines Gangs as: "A group or association of three or more persons who have a common identifying sign, symbol or name, and who individually or collectively engage in, or have engaged in, criminal activity, or as a juvenile commits an act that if committed by an adult would be a criminal act."

Have Gangs Invaded Your Workplace?

The National School Safety Center has developed an assessment tool to aid in determining gang presence or activity. Although these questions are directed at educational facilities, they apply to other environments as well.

Questions that are answered "yes" are totaled in value using the number in parentheses. The total number from all questions answered "yes" is then compared to the key at the end of the survey.

  1. Do you have graffiti on or near your campus? (5)
  2. Do you have crossed-out graffiti on or near your campus? (10)
  3. Do your students wear colors, jewelry, and clothing, flash hand signals or display other behavior that may be gang related? (10)
  4. Are gangs available near your school? (5)
  5. Has there been a significant increase in the number of physical confrontations/ stare downs within the past twelve months in or around your school? (5)
  6. Is there an increasing presence of weapons in your community? (10)
  7. Are beepers, pagers or cellular phones used by your students? (10)
  8. Have you had a drive-by shooting at or around your school? (10)
  9. Have you had a "show-by" display of weapons at or around your school? (10)
  10. Is truancy rate of your school increasing? (5)
  11. Are there increasing numbers of racial incidents occurring in your community? (5)
  12. Is there a history of gangs in your community? (10)
  13. Is there an increasing presence of "informal social groups" with unusual names such as "posse." (15)

The scores will indicate the level or need of security or a review of existing security:

0-15 points, no significant gang problem;

20-40 points, an emerging gang problem;

45-60 points, a significant gang problem for which a prevention and intervention plan should be established;

65 points or higher, an acute gang problem exists that requires a total gang prevention, intervention and suppression program.

Gang Members:

The Madison, Wisconsin, PD Gang Task Force defines a person who meets one of the following criteria as a gang member:

  • When the individual admits membership in a gang.
  • When a law enforcement agency or reliable informant identifies an individual as a gang member.
  • When an informant of previously untested reliability identifies an individual as a gang member, and it is corroborated by independent information.
  • When the individual resides in or frequents a particular gang’s area and affects their style of dress, use of hand signs, symbols or tattoos, and/or maintains ongoing relationships with known gang members; or has been arrested several times in the company of identified gang members for offenses which are consistent with usual gang activity; and where the law enforcement officer believes there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in gang-related criminal activity or enterprise.

Why People join Gangs:

Pulaski County, Arkansas, Coroner Steve Nawojczyk provides several reasons for youths joining gangs. Nawojczk’s reasons include:

  • Juveniles and young adults gravitate to gangs out of a need to belong. Being in a gang provides the individual with a sense of empowerment.
  • Juveniles and young adults that are lacking attention and a sense of family as well as have a desire for material goods are also motivated to gang involvement.
  • The status and reputation earned from being in a gang.
  • The gang becomes a family and an outlet for the stress and anxiety experienced by juveniles and young adults.
  • Juveniles and adults may join a gang to avoid continued harassment or pressure to join.
  • Gang culture is also highly glamorized by the media including movies, television, and rap artists who are often idolized. These rap artists often "rap" about killing or revolutions, as well as the monetary gain achieved from dealing drugs.

Gangs are Spreading:

Movies and rap music that glamorize gang activity and violence influence juveniles and young adults in these areas. Small town officials label some gang members "wanna-bes". This label is often applied so the public does not perceive a real gang problem. However, "wanna-bes" become "gonna-bes" and are possibly more dangerous than actual gang members from a larger city. These "wanna-bes" are willing to go to extreme measures to prove themselves. Small town gangs affiliated with big-city gangs will perform acts of violence to show seriousness and desire to be hard-core gang members to their mentors. One should also note that the ages of gang members spans from 12 to 25 and in many cases exceeds both ends of the spectrum.

Are Gangs a Threat to the Work Place?

As mentioned earlier, 77% of all gang members are employed. Gang members have ties in industry, retail, education, healthcare, and almost every other place of business.

The current mandatory sentencing guidelines and three strikes rules in the courts have forced Gangs to find their source of monetary gain elsewhere. Gangs draw most of their money from drug trafficking. However, in the business community Gang members have found profitable ways to steal and commit fraud that are less prone to prosecution. In addition to selling or trading (merchandise and favors) for drugs, gang members are involved in cellular phone and credit card fraud. Not to mention, they also gain inside information and access to their employer’s valuables, cash, computer codes, security and loss prevention policies, and access control points.

Employees who use and purchase drugs from gang members cause other security concerns. These employees may leave windows or doors open for a gang-related theft to take place. They may also turn a "blind eye" to a theft being committed by a gang member. These same employees may have to steal money or information to support their own drug habit. Gang members may also use their gang status to intimidate management and to avoid discipline. Finally, employees purchasing drugs from gang members may cash bad checks for the gang member as a favor.

Early Warning Signs:

Gangs do not develop overnight, some organization needs to occur first. Instead there is generally a gradual buildup once the gang makes its first appearance. One of the first things they do is set up shop and then the recruitment efforts begin. During this time it is possible to observe several early warning indicators. These early warning indicators include, but are not limited to: drug use by employees; "gang member" presence on site; graffiti, fresh or crossed out or written over; a sudden increase in thefts or loss of merchandise or cash.

What Protection Professionals can do?

Protection Professionals need to be instrumental in both the prevention and intervention of gang activity. Prevention begins with the effective use of human resource tools such as background & criminal checks. Samuel Greengard, in an article published in the Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior, recommends that all supervisors should be trained in identifying gang signs and activity. He also mentions that many criminals get their GED while in prison which is something to look for when doing a background check.

Protection Professionals should maintain a positive relationship with local and state law enforcement agencies and pass along any information that he or she has gathered. Local law enforcement agencies have a vast array of intelligence gathering resources and a well-established network with other agencies and the federal government.

Protection Professionals should always endeavor to maintain a positive relationship with local agencies in this matter as well as others. Finally, Protection Professionals should maintain solid communication with their managers, staff, and employers. Communication is the key to gathering and exchanging information, as well as education and prevention.


Additional Information is available from:

Professional Security Television Network, 1303 Marsh Lane, Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 417-4100

Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior, published by Crisis Prevention Institute, 3315-K North 124th Street, Brookfield, WI 53005
(414) 783-5787

Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force, 211 South Carroll Street,
Madison, WI 53710 (608) 266-4248

The Nawojczyk Group, Inc., PO Box 1932, North Little Rock, AR 72115
(501) 390-1393

United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC 20535-0001