There is no agreed-upon gang typology. Numerous attempts at classifying the various types of gangs have been made. Two common features of these attempts are: (1) classifying gangs by the type of criminal activity they are involved in; and (2) classifying gangs based on their names and whether they are derived from national gang names or localized, neighborhood gang names. Both of these methods are subject to a critical flaw frequently observed regarding street gangs. In terms of the first type of classification, by and large, gangs as a group are involved in a variety of criminal activities. During active periods of membership, the offending rate of youth and young adults involved in gangs increases for a multitude and wide range of offenses. The phenomenon is referred to as “cafeteria-style offending,” serving as a reminder that reducing gang types to one offense or another is substantially misleading. The method of classifying gangs by their names is also inherently flawed, since many gangs with national-sounding names have little if any connection to the larger, long-standing gangs from which their names are derived. In many instances, the connection between local and national gangs based on the similarity in names is merely assumed rather than conclusively demonstrated and documented. Local gang members state that they typically adopt larger gang names to project a more widespread and powerful presence in their area. Gangs frequently adopt a mixture of cultural signs and symbols based on their appeal to local gang members, resulting in what has been referred to as a “hybrid gang” culture.
The types of gangs that often receive the most attention from media are characterized as gangs with nationally recognized names, portrayed as highly organized, extremely violent, and focused on one criminal operation, such as drug trafficking. The public is often left with the impression that all gangs, and their gang members, are excessively violent and out of control. These characterizations do more than enough to promote fear and little to help develop successful responses to the gang problem in any given community. In reality, there are a variety of gangs across the United States. Understanding how gangs and their members are both different and similar is essential in developing and implementing appropriate prevention and intervention programs, as well as targeted control strategies.