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The 20 Worst Gang Cities in the U.S.

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. The National Gang Center reports over 30,000 different gangs across the nation operating in and out of various states.

You might think this problem is primarily a city issue, and you’re mostly right: about 41.6% of all gangs operate in large cities, while 25.8% operate in the suburbs. However, even small cities and rural counties are heavily affected by gang violence. Using updated crime information, let’s examine the cities with the most gangs in America.

Our Methodology

Each of our articles is carefully researched to ensure it provides accurate information. For this article, we:

  1. Reviewed our previous publication
  2. Examined current crime statistics
  3. Expanded information to include this information
  4. Verified all data with secondary sources
  5. Linked primary data in the article for you to review

Let’s Take a Look at the Cities With the Most Gangs 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. Gangs come in many different types, so make sure you research what types affect you if you live in any of these affected areas.

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. These violent incidents impacted many citizens throughout the area.

While the city stopped short of calling the shootings gang-related, they did indicate that they believe they are “group” related. It’s safe to say that’s likely, considering that Connecticut currently has four known gangs operating throughout the area, particularly in larger cities like Hartford.

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.

Examining Hartford's crime statistics shows that the city is safer than just 14% of all US neighborhoods. It experiences 579 violent crimes a year, which is considerable for a city of its size. While not all these crimes are likely gang-related, many are probably connected to such activity.

Cleveland

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 to protect citizens from this activity.

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 and affects far more than gang-affiliated individuals.

It seems that police can only do so much, so it may be up to citizens to use common sense and notify authorities with any information possible. Currently, there are two known gangs operating in Ohio, including the Bloods and Crips, who are two of the biggest and most dangerous in the nation.

Birmingham, Alabama

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. Few officials have been brave or desperate enough to attempt such tactics. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to help.

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. Gangs like the Crips, Bloods, and All Profits Gang operate throughout the state.

Examining Birmingham's crime statistics is shocking: there are over 4,065 violent crimes every year and 11,166 property crimes. If even half of these are gang-related, that’s a lot of aggression that could put the lives of residents at risk every day.

Rochester, NY

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. Perhaps that’s why more than 1,400 violent crimes occur here yearly.

In fact, the schools seem to be falling behind in following safety protocols during dangerous incidents. Perhaps that’s why so many schools in the area are struggling, according to Great Schools. There are some good facilities but not nearly enough.

Little Rock

16. Little Rock, AR

Little Rock might not be the average person’s idea of a dangerous city. However, it experiences nearly 4,100 violent crimes a year and is considered one of the most dangerous places to live in the nation. Shockingly, the state itself has seven known gangs.

After all, 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. Unfortunately, that’s what KARK.com reported when interviewing Leifel Jackson about the city’s crime issues.

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. He stated that today’s street gangs don’t appear to follow any rules. In his day, gangs avoided unnecessary violence towards the average person.

Unfortunately, this disregard 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 every list of bad cities.

Baltimore, United States

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 it 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.

Currently, World Population Review tracks two major gangs in the area. That said, 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.

This incident uncannily follows the plot of the 1976 film “Assault on Precinct 13,” a dystopian gang film. That connection shows just how far Baltimore has fallen in recent years. That “group activity” is unfortunately all too real for the families of innocents caught in the crossfire.

Kansas City

14. Kansas City, MO

Kansas City is another one of those areas you might not think would be on a list of the cities with the most gangs. However, they recently 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.

There certainly are enough risks of children joining gangs in the state. There are currently five known gangs in the area, and likely even more. Unfortunately, the city’s high number of low-quality schools likely only impacts this gang risk even worse.

As a result, 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.

Philly

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. Whether he’s right is hard to confirm because there are over a dozen gangs in Pennsylvania, most of which are centered in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. These include motorcycle gangs and even crime families.

Thankfully, 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. It appears they’re getting even bolder than ever.

New Mexico

12. Albuquerque, NM

Universal Crisis Intervention states that Albuquerque has a long and violent history with street gangs. They claim that the city is a gang “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. Perhaps that’s why the city is considered safer than just one percent of the nation, and so many of the schools are sub-par in the area.

The FBI, DEA, and other law enforcement officials are actively working to stop gang drug running and gun violence. For example, 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.

Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri

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.

Like many of the cities on this list, St. Louis has over 4,000 violent crimes a year and is considered safer than just one percent of the nation. The state’s five known gangs likely operate in and around Missouri and focus on various times of crime.

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.

NYC

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. In fact, based on per capita crime rates, it’s safer than 15% of American neighborhoods these days, even with nearly 9,000 violent crimes yearly.

Tragically, New York still has a gang problem, with many shootings and other criminal activities reported regularly. For example, 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. Currently, there are about 10 known gangs in the area, though it’s likely that there are a lot more.

No matter where you are in New York City, gang violence is always possible. It’s even affected school quality. While there are plenty of great schools in the area, many are low quality and feature way too much dangerous violence.

Stockton

9. Stockton, CA

Stockton is one of the cities with the most gangs in the nation, a fact the city doesn’t hide. 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.

Much of this might relate to the city’s relatively poor educational system. Checking their Great Schools site finds multiple schools rated 5 and 6, which means many young ones may turn to gangs in desperation. In fact, Stockton experiences nearly 4,100 violent crimes a year.

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.

Buffalo

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.”

What makes Buffalo one of the cities with the most gangs in America? Well, it’s the second-largest city in New York and suffers from a high degree of poverty. According to Investigative Post, nearly 30% of the residents in the area are poor. Often, people turn to crime in desperation.

Furthermore, the city isn’t known for a great education. Its best schools are ranked a 7 out of 10 on Great Schools, with far more falling in the 4-6 range. Poor education often leads to bad career opportunities and a potential life of crime.

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. Currently, it experiences about 2,400 violent crimes a year, which is high for its population.

Memphis, Southwest Tennessee

7. Memphis, TN

Tennessee is such a rural state that it’s hard to imagine it would host one of the cities with the most gangs. However, it has four major gangs, most of which are centered in Memphis. 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. Currently, it experiences nearly 16,000 violent crimes a year and almost 35,000, making it safer than any neighborhood in America and one of the worst places to live.

Justice.gov talks about the extensive networks of gangs 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.

These gangs are some of the most dangerous and violent in the nation. With today’s gangs recognizing far fewer boundaries between gang warfare and general violence, it’s only getting worse to live there. So, if you live in Memphis or plan on visiting, it’s a good idea to be able to recognize common gang identifiers, such as various types of graffiti and colors in an area.

Washington DC

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. Washington, D.C., has long been known as one of the most dangerous cities in the nation and is currently safer than just 2% of the nation, with a violent crime rate of nearly 10%.

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. Does that sound like a gang to you? It’s sad how so few people can impact so many.

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. It’s surprising that the nation’s leaders don’t step in and take control of the situation, but perhaps far bigger issues force them to focus beyond the city itself.

Oakland

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 fact, gangs might be attracted to areas like these due to their wealth and might find themselves attacking regions that were not impacted in early gang eras.

For example, in September 2022, Edsource.org posted an article referencing a recent gang-related shooting at a local school. So even while Oakland’s schools mostly receive pretty high rankings, it’s clear that they’re dangerous places for many children to attend.

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. While the baby obviously wasn’t the main target, they were the ultimate victims here.

Unfortunately, rival gangs are an ongoing theme in every city, making becoming an innocent victim at any age increasingly possible. With nearly 5,500 violent crimes a year for a crime rate of 12%, Oakland is safer than just 1% of all American neighborhoods.

Lake Arrowhead, California

4. San Bernardino, CA

The San Bernardino County website reports that most of the data coming in from gang-related activity is for homicide. Like most cities with the most gangs, these findings come from the number of gang-related filings, the number of gangs in the county, and gang members who have been identified.

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. Such drug arrests are likely a big reason why San Bernadino is safer than only 3% of all American cities.

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.

What might be causing this high gang violence? Well, an examination of the schools in the area finds two high-quality options and a string of 5-7 out of 10 schools. Furthermore, the city has a very high poverty rate, which can also heavily affect its safety and the allure of gang life.

Georgia

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. Gangs like the Bloods and Latin Kings operate in the city.

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.” A large part of the problem is likely the high poverty level, which is over 40% in many neighborhoods.

Furthermore, the city’s schools aren’t very promising. There are a couple of good places, including mostly elementary schools. The middle and high schools are almost universally poor, meaning Atlanta children aren’t getting the help they need to live a life free of crime.

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. That said, it still sees nearly 4,800 violent crimes a year and is safer than just 3% of the rest of the nation.

Detroit

2. Detroit, MI

Detroit has a long reputation as one of the cities with the most gangs in the nation. In fact, if you were to do an online search for gang violence in Detroit, you’d see results about gang violence alongside gang violence attorneys. While crime is going down in the city, it’s clearly not enough.

After all, living in a city where gang violence lawyers appear in your early search results means you might have a gang problem. Decades of being one of the poorest cities in the country, as well as an attractive breeding ground for numerous gangs, have made Detroit a very scary place to live.

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.” In this area, police won’t even pull you over if you’re speeding at night and encourage residents to run red lights (safely) at night rather than stop.

LA

1. Los Angeles, CA

No list of the cities with the most gangs is complete with Los Angeles. The City of Angels has a long and violent history with gangs that have become so meshed into the city’s population that it’s likely to top this list for the next century unless major changes are made.

For example, toward 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. The violence spread over from gangs and into the general public.

Police officials think 10 of the 14 people involved in the shootings are well-known gang members. Many were likely Crips, Bloods, Surenos, Nortenos, MS-13, and 18th Street Gang affiliates. The Aryan Brotherhood also has a large base in this city, making it dangerous for minorities this group targets.

Shockingly, 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. There are nearly 29,000 violent crimes and almost 95,000 property crimes here every year.

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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Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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