SANDAG report: 158 street gangs in San Diego County

SAN DIEGO - San Diego County is home to 158 street gangs with about 7,500 members, according to a report released Wednesday by the San Diego Association of Governments.

The study based on 2012 data blamed gangs for about 25 percent of the crimes in the region. Many of the law enforcement officers interviewed said they believed gangs were now a bigger problem than five years ago.

"Gangs are diversifying into other areas and becoming more involved in prostitution, alien smuggling, and human trafficking," said Cynthia Burke, SANDAG director of criminal justice research. "They are collaborating with each other to build more sophisticated criminal enterprises, and they are using new and advanced technology to facilitate criminal activity to a greater degree than ever before."

According the SANDAG, a regional planning agency, the study found that the average gang member joined at 13.5 years of age. The leading reason for joining a gang was because of an existing association with friends who are involved in one.

Gang involvement tends to run in families. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said they had family members in gangs.

Other key findings included:

-- gang members in the Midwest have been migrating to the southwestern U.S. to take advantage of the drug trade
-- the presence of gangs made up of Somali immigrants are increasing
-- more than 50 percent of adult gang members and 31 percent of juvenile gang members have carried a firearm
-- about half of the gang members questioned said their criminal activity included robberies and graffiti, while 95 percent said they "hang out" with other members and 91 percent they get drunk and/or high with them
-- 37 percent said gang membership provides a sense of belonging

A total of 136 people -- 93 adults and 43 juveniles -- answered questions about their gang involvement, according to SANDAG.

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