The first step in combating illegal gang activity is awareness. Citizens armed with knowledge can help prevent gang activity and are better able to avoid being victimized. The following information will answer some questions you may have about gangs and gang activity in the Omaha area and what you can do to help prevent them.

What is a Gang?

A gang is a group of individuals who associate on a continual basis. Not all gangs are bad. However, many gang members are involved in illegal activity. They identify with gang names, colors, gang language or hand signs and a common philosophy.

Why do some youth join a gang?

Peer pressure often plays a strong role in one’s decision to join a gang. Gangs can offer a feeling of acceptance, protection and, sometimes, money. Money is most often made through the sale or distribution of drugs. Also, poor economic opportunities, high unemployment, a significant high school drop-out rate, and lack of family structure or support can aid the growth of gangs and gang activity.

Does Omaha have a high number of gang members?

There are hundreds of at-risk youth in the Omaha area who are susceptible, and may become vulnerable to the gang lifestyle. At the present time, only a small percent of these at-risk youth are considered to be “hard-core gang members,” with many of the extreme hard-core members being adults who may have already served sentences in a penal institution.

Does gang activity affect only the inner city?

Gang activity does not have any territorial or ethnic boundaries. Criminal activity that accompanies some of the gangs can range from a territory as small as a single neighborhood block, to a highly mobile criminal operation that reaches to the coastal states. Gangs may become criminally competitive with each other, and have a need to expand into new territories including suburban areas.

Who are the leaders of the gangs?

Most gangs are small and are formed in neighborhoods by local youth. Often there is no formally recognized leadership in gangs. The oldest, or strongest, youth is usually the leader. Some neighborhood gangs align with one another to become larger and more powerful, forcing other neighborhood gangs to join them or fight them. Often a youth will gain higher status in a gang by committing violent acts.

How do gangs operate?

Most gangs operate in a similar manner. Most gangs identify with a name, color and hand sign, and gang members are given nicknames. Law enforcement officials believe that drug trafficking goes hand-in-hand with gang activity.

Some gangs will mark an area or neighborhood with graffiti to claim the territory for distribution. Often drugs are distributed from a network of well-fortified houses and apartments. In addition to narcotics, some gangs are involved in terrorism, illegal arms and munitions dealings, robberies and burglaries in the Omaha area. Gang members often use intimidation and fear of retaliation to discourage citizens from reporting illegal activity.

Gang members will often wear clothing that identifies a person with a specific gang. For example, one gang may identify with blue, and carry a blue bandanna. Another gang may identify with red and carry a red bandanna. Hispanic gangs identify with dark clothing, generally black. These colors may be reflected in other items of clothing, including baseball caps and shoe laces. Anti-Semitic gangs may wear heavy black boots and military-style clothing.

How do I know if my son or daughter is involved in a gang?

Look for changes in your child’s behavior patterns. These changes may include truancy from school or job, a decline in academic performance, a change in his or her group of friends or loyalty to new friends, violation of imposed curfew, graffiti in his or her bedroom, a refusal to wear certain colors and use of gang signs or language.

What can I do if I suspect my son or daughter is involved in a gang?

Communicate with your child. Help him or her build self-esteem. Take an interest in your child’s education and school work. Become acquainted with your child’s friends and their parents. Help your child find constructive alternatives to gang involvement. These include positive family activities, sports or athletic programs, extracurricular activities and summer or after-school employment or volunteer work.