Sheriff’s deputies arrest gang members in September after a multi-agency investigation into gang-related drug activities. Photo courtesy of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department

Gang membership isn’t growing in San Diego, but young people continue to join — typically at the age of 13 –and more than half of gang members carry guns.

Those were among the key findings of a new report released Monday by SANDAG‘s Criminal Justic Research Division, which said the findings highlight the need for early interventions and prevention efforts.

Among the key findings of the report:

  • There were more gangs, but fewer documented gang members, in the San Diego region in 2015 compared to 2014. San Diego Police Department data shows 6,950 members in 2015, down from 7,081 in 2015.
  • Some 25 percent of adults and more than 40 percent of juveniles in detention facilities throughout the region report some form of gang affiliation — either now or in their past.
  • Gang involvement often starts in middle school years and is heavily influenced by peers. The average age when joining is 13.6 years.
  • More than half of gang members reported carrying a gun and most said they are easy to get.
  • Around half of gang-involved individuals report they have committed gang-related robberies, another half stole cars, and one quarter were involved in pimping/prostituting.
  • Most gang members eventually leave the gang lifestyle. Around one in three (39 percent) of those still in said they want to get out, and almost two-thirds (63 percent ) said they thought they would leave eventually. Only around one in ten (13 percent) said they could not leave it if they wanted to.

“While crime rates are at record lows, we know gangs can be responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes – both violent and property crime,” said Dr. Cynthia Burke, director of SANDAG’s Criminal Justice Research Division.

“Our interviews are consistent with what other research has shown – many youth join gangs because it offers them support, and they end up being more likely to engage in criminal activity with these peers,” said Burke. “As such, it is important that we continue to invest in multi-pronged approaches that include prevention, intervention, and suppression activities that include mentors and alternatives to the gang lifestyle.”

The San Diego Association of Governments is the regional planning agency for the San Diego region.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.