SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Ramped up preventative efforts and early interventions are needed to bring down the number of San Diego County youths joining gangs because parental disapproval alone may not be enough, according to a reported released Monday by the San Diego Association of Governments.
Researchers compiling the report "Gang Involvement Among San Diego County Arrestees: 2014 Data from the SANDAG Substance Abuse Monitoring Program" found that, on average, local arrestees with past or current gang affiliations first joined at 13. More than 40 percent of juveniles and about a quarter of adults in detention facilities admitted to having current or past affiliation with one of the 155 known gangs in San Diego County.
SANDAG's Criminal Justice Research Division Director Cynthia Burke said that although local crime rates were at record lows, gang members were responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes.
"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," Burke said.
Around half of those surveyed said they had committed gang-related robberies, about the same amount stole cars, and a quarter were involved in pimping, according to the report. About 60 percent admitted to carrying a gun.
Gang involvement often starts in middle school years and is heavily influenced by peers. About 58 percent began hanging out with gang members because their friends belonged, and 44 percent said they joined because of involvement within their family. About 18 percent said their parents were in a gang.
One in three respondents told researchers their families didn't care or were in favor of their gang involvement. More than half felt that their neighborhood or other youth in the community were neutral or were in favor of their affiliation.
Researchers said parental disapproval alone may not be enough to deter kids and teens from joining gangs, but educational efforts early on for both kids and parents can be effective to counter gang influence.
"As such, it is important that we continue to invest in multipronged approaches that include prevention, intervention and suppression activities that include mentors and alternatives to the gang lifestyle," Burke said.
The study also found that most gang members eventually leave the gang life behind. About 39 percent said they want to get out and 63 percent said they thought they would leave eventually.
Researchers said community groups and law enforcement should also look into whether opportunities exist to help gang members transition into a more productive lifestyle. Strategies listed included recognizing when someone is ready to leave the gang and helping them adjust to adult responsibilities.