Gangs seem to be spreading and growing across the United States at an alarming rate. WordpopulationReview.com reports that almost half of the violent crimes in cities nationwide can be connected to gang violence. So let’s look at what constitutes a gang and where the worst gang cities are in the US.
What Qualifies a Group to Be Called a Gang?
Thinking about gangs as just another type of organized crime can be helpful. Yet today’s gangs are more challenging to identify than men dressed in suits and having secret business meetings and dealings in the back of a business. Different types of gangs include:
- Neighborhood or Local Gangs
- Street Gangs
- Prison Gangs
- Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs
Most people are concerned about local or street gangs where they live, but all types of gangs can harm their communities. Gangs aren’t good, no matter where and how they operate.
Let’s Take a Look at the Worst Gang Cities in America
Gangs are in every city in the United States, and their numbers continue to grow. As such, the list of the worst gang cities can change frequently, but once a city has a problem, it’s likely to stay bad for some time.
20. Hartford, CT
In the summer of 2022, CTInsider.com featured an article about the city’s growing violence problem. This was published in response to a string of shootings in which 12 people were shot in six days.
While the city stopped short of calling the shootings gang-related, they did indicate that they believe they are “group” related.
Later in November 2022, WTNH.com reported that the mayor recognizes that many of these shootings have to do with gangs that contribute to the violence. But unfortunately, even as the police continue to battle and make arrests, the gang problem persists.
19. Cleveland, OH
In 2021, News5Cleveland.com reported that a new FBI task force would target the city’s gang problem. Gang crimes climbed so much in 2020 that the FBI warranted forming a team to try and stop as much gang violence as possible.
Unfortunately, just a year later, Cleveland19News.com reminded people to stay alert and keep all valuables out of sight due to increased gang-related robberies. Known as the “smash-and-grab” crime, it happens any time of day or night.
Police can only do so much, so it may be up to citizens to use common sense and notify authorities with any information possible.
18. Birmingham, AL
The gang violence in Birmingham was so bad in the late summer of 2022 that the mayor pleaded for a gang truce after five people were killed over one weekend. AL.com reported that the mayor even called out gangs by name, imploring them to back down.
Shortly after, WVTM13.com posted a video featuring the Birmingham Police Chief as he pleaded with the community to be brave and call in any known issues, thefts, or violence. The city saw over 100 murders in 2022, making it a dangerous gang situation.
17. Rochester, NY
In October of 2022, SpectrumLocalNews.com reported what the city called a “gang problem” and connected it to the murder of a police officer. Rochester is also one of many cities talking about not only having local gangs but also how gangs from all over can network throughout the country.
In early 2023, another local news channel featured a story about how the city school district has a scary amount of gang activity within their schools. A teacher states that the gang problem has been going on for years but is worsening.
In fact, the schools seem to be falling behind in following safety protocols during dangerous incidents.
16. Little Rock, AR
When your city asks former gang members what they think it will take to curb the number of gang crimes in the area, you have a problem. But unfortunately, that’s what KARK.com reported when interviewing Leifel Jackson.
As a former gang leader in the city, he gave his opinion about what must be done with the increasing violence over the past couple of years.
Jackson’s biggest concerns lie in the fact that today’s street gangs don’t appear to follow any rules. Unfortunately, this is leading to more and more innocents getting caught in the crossfire – especially children.
Until the city finds a way to get the violence under control, it may make any list of bad cities to live in for some time.
15. Baltimore, MD
In a report from FoxBaltimore.com in 2022, the city had seen a staggering 234 homicides and another 490 people shot that survived. Conflict is the main motive, the Commission states, but is unwilling to call any of the violence gang-related. Instead, he would rather say that they are working to identify “groups” and other types of networks.
While the high level of violence continues, the MCAC.Maryland.gov website reports that the trial of men allegedly involved in a gang-related shooting of a 10-year-old girl who was going to get ice cream begins in 2023.
Whether you believe there’s gang violence in Baltimore or not, it probably seems pretty real for the families of innocents caught in the crossfire.
14. Kansas City, MO
Kansas City has such a problem with gang activity that they’ve created a Parent’s Guide to Gangs PDF for free online. The guide offers parents a look into why kids join gangs, the consequences of being in a gang, and a detailed look at the standard gang identifiers.
By mid-2022, Kansas City’s homicide rate matched the total number for 2021. The city is doing its best to identify and prosecute the offenders. They claimed victories in the conviction of several drug-trafficking conspiracies in 2022.
13. Philadelphia, PA
Near the end of 2022, Fox29.com reported that homicides claimed nearly 500 victims, and many were connected to gang violence. The Assistant District Attorney said he believes the gang groups are small and associate themselves with certain blocks. In fact, he doesn’t think that they even have an official leader.
One of the city’s best ways to track some of the gang activity is on social media. Many of the offenders boast on different platforms about their crimes. Some even post rap videos detailing their deeds.
12. Albuquerque, NM
Universal Crisis Intervention states that Albuquerque has a long and violent history with street gangs. The claim is that the city has been called a “war zone” because of the ongoing violent and criminal activities, including narcotics, sex crimes, beatings, torture, and murder.
One of the most disturbing things about these gangs is that they use children, especially in drug operations, to avoid suspicions.
The FBI, DEA, and other law enforcement officials are actively working to stop gang drug running and gun violence.
KRQE.com reports that law officials executed 16 federal search warrants in 2022, where they recovered over a million fentanyl pills, grenades, over 140 pounds of meth, and upwards of $3 million in cash. While this is a significant bust, gangs remain a problem in this city.
11. St. Louis, MO
While gang busts are reported occasionally in St. Louis, gangs continue to threaten innocent bystanders. KSDK.com says that in 2022, property crimes increased by 6%, leading police to execute warrants on gang members holed up in a motel. They made 16 arrests and recovered many drugs and 27, mostly stolen, firearms.
One of the most heartbreaking consequences of violence in St. Louis is the rise in children who have become gunshot victims. While this increase seems to coincide with the stress of the pandemic, many shootings came from an increased crime involving adults. No matter the cause, the rise in shootings of children is downright disturbing.
10. New York, NY
There was a time when New York was at the top of the list for cities with the worst gang activity, but now the problem is rising across the entire country. Unfortunately, New York still has a gang problem, with many shootings and other criminal activities reported regularly.
The New York Times ran a story in 2022 that stated that 32 people were arrested and charged in a gang shooting. This event killed two people and injured 14. Later in the year, a 15-year-old boy was shot in a Brooklyn park and is believed to have been gang-related.
The New York Post reported a major gang takedown that included a man believed to have shot a three-year-old. The bust included the arrest of 32 members of rival gangs. No matter where you are in New York City, gang violence is always possible.
9. Stockton, CA
The city of Stockton knows there’s a gang problem. They address it right on the City of Stockton website. In addition, they cover activity and warning signs for residents and parents to stay ahead if they encounter anything suspicious.
During the summer of 2022, Stockton police arrested 90 people charged with gang-related activities. They also seized drugs, money, and 58 guns during this sweep. The gangs they targeted include Nortenos, West Side Bloods, Sutter Street Crips, Nightingale/EBK, and Northside Gangster Crips.
8. Buffalo, NY
If your local news outlet writes an article identifying 11 different gangs known to police and other authorities, you’ve got a problem. Unfortunately, in 2022, WBLK.com posted just that. According to WGRZ, “The FBI estimates there are between 40 and 50 street gangs in Buffalo with roughly 800 members.”
Many of the gangs seem to be connected to different streets, neighborhoods, or housing projects. Buffalo has had a long history of gangs in their city, so this is unfortunately unsurprising.
7. Memphis, TN
Drug crime seems to be the main gang activity seen in Memphis. Overall violence is also rising in the city, but drugs and gang rivalry are the top problems in the city’s gang violence issues.
Justice.gov talks about the extensive networks gangs have throughout the state and country. The website also lists that the main gangs in Memphis include the Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Mara Salvatrucha, and Vice Lords.
So if you live in Memphis or plan on visiting, it’s a good idea to be able to recognize common gang identifiers.
6. Washington, DC
It might be uncomfortable to think about gang violence in a city built around protecting Americans, but it’s an indisputable fact. Interestingly, DCIST.com reports that a new study of most of the city’s gun violence comes from a small group of people. In fact, they’ve narrowed the number to around 500 people who are responsible.
Right after New Year’s in 2023, the local police were already investigating multiple shootings and a young boy’s death. Even more alarming is a 2022 report in The Intercept that states that the city’s gang database is almost three times as large as it was eight years ago. The bottom line is that a growing gang violence problem is happening in Washington, DC.
5. Oakland, CA
It costs a lot to live in Oakland, but that doesn’t make anyone living there immune to the growing violence around them. In September 2022, Edsource.org posted an article referencing a recent gang-related shooting at a local school.
In mid-December of 2022, a toddler was murdered in a gang-related highway shooting. KTVU.com reports that the 3-year-old was asleep in his car seat when a stray bullet shot him in the head, killing him.
Unfortunately, rival gangs are an ongoing theme in every city, making becoming an innocent victim at any age increasingly possible.
4. San Bernardino, CA
The San Bernardino County website reports that most of the data coming in from gang-related activity is for homicide. These findings come from the number of gang-related filings, the number of gangs in the county, and gang members who have been identified as such by law enforcement.
In August of 2022, the San Bernardino Police made a gang sweep that resulted in 30 felony arrests. A large quantity of PCP, meth, cocaine, and multiple firearms were recovered in the bust.
In September 2022, Fontana Herald News reported that the San Bernardino Police Department put 15 gang members under arrest. They also shut down an illegal gambling cafe operated by the gang. Police said they recovered lots of ammo, cocaine, meth, and fentanyl from the bust.
3. Atlanta, GA
If you go to Law.Georgia.gov, you’ll find a page dedicated to gang activity. The page claims that almost half of all violent crimes involve gang activity. In Georgia, gangs actively recruit members, with over 1,500 suspected networks statewide.
In May of 2022, WSBTV reported that gang violence can be blamed for almost 75% to 80% of the crime in Atlanta. The Fulton County DA went as far as to say, “This is a land mine.”
Yet the Atlanta police department is hopeful they’re making headway in stopping the violence. They report that they are seeing a 200% rise in gang-related charges.
2. Detroit, MI
If you were to do an online search for gang violence in Detroit, you’d see results about gang violence alongside gang violence attorneys. Living in a city where gang violence lawyers appear in your early search results means you might have a gang problem.
Over the past few years, Detroit has tried implementing new strategies to combat growing gang activity. They had a “Ceasefire Intervention Program” and “Project Greenlight.” Unfortunately, both programs were ruled ineffective by the National Institute of Justice.
The city combats drive-by shootings, intimidation, and more every day. There’s even an area with the zip code 48205 often called the “4-8-2-0 Die.”
1. Los Angeles, CA
Towards the end of 2022, ABC News reported that Los Angeles was under siege with violence between rival gangs. The report came on the heels of a string of shootings over five days that killed 14 people. Police officials think 10 of the 14 people involved in the shootings are well-known gang members.
Los Angeles has an estimated 150,000 gang members. They are thought to be behind 25% to 50% of the city’s yearly homicides. Gang rivalry and drug activity fuel much of the violence.
Now You Know the Worst Gang Cities in America
No one wants to have their city show up on a list of the worst for gang violence, but it happens. In fact, since every city in the US is believed to have gangs, yours could end up on such a list.
The best thing you can do is to educate yourself about gangs, which are thought to be active in your area, any identifying gang marks, and what you can do to keep yourself safe. Knowledge is power when it comes to avoiding gang activity in your city.
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Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson