The FBI says America has more gangs and they are more violent. They say there are 33,000 gangs in the US with nearly one and a half million gang members, which is up 40 percent from just two years ago. That includes street, motorcycle and prison gangs.
The 2011 gang threat assessment report says Oklahoma has around 12,000 gang members. In the past 20 years, Tulsa's gang unit has accumulated about 6,000 gang members in its database and around 2,000 are active.
The FBI says gangs are growing, not just in membership, but geographically too, spreading from big cities to suburbs and rural areas. They say gangs are responsible for nearly 50 percent of the violent crime in this country, in some places it's 90 percent.
Gangs are expanding from drug crimes into areas like human trafficking, prostitution, even counterfeiting and identity theft. The fastest growing gangs in the US are Hispanic gangs, that's is also the case in Tulsa.
"Our Hispanic gangs are the fastest growing gangs and are in certain sections of the city. They're the ones we're trying to monitor right now," said Tulsa Police Sgt. Sean Larkin.
In Tulsa, the two biggest gangs are the Hoover Crips and the neighborhood Crips. They are responsible for a number of shootings and homicides, generally targeting each other. Tulsa's gangs don't require violent initiations or conduct turf wars and are no longer concentrated in one part of town.
"Now, we're seeing gangs that used to be in north Tulsa, guys now out east, down south or in the suburbs like Broken Arrow, Owasso, places like that. They've ventured out," Larkin said.
While the report says gang violence has increased across the country, Sergeant Larkin says our gang related homicides are down this year, but the shootings are up a bit. He says the average citizen is not typically a target of gang violence.
"If you choose not to be in that lifestyle or surround yourself with people in gangs, drugs, you have very little to worry about," he said.
He says the Tulsa gang unit is doing a better job of identifying and photographing gang members, in order to track of who is claiming which gang and might be connected to crime down the road. Tulsa's police chief just added three more officers to the gang unit, bringing it to 15, the highest level in years.