Gangs Using Social Media

Gang members in Oklahoma have begun using cell phones and text messaging to conduct criminal activities, and Internet social media such as Facebook and YouTube to recruit members as young as second-graders, according to a survey of gang activity in the state.

The survey, a follow-up to a study in 2006, shows Oklahoma’s increase in gang members the past three years is relatively small compared with the rest of the country. But youth in the state are joining gangs at an earlier age and gang members are becoming more prone to violent actions.

As a result, the entire community, not just law enforcement, must address the gang issues facing Oklahoma, said Michael Wilds, an associate professor of criminal justice and legal studies at Northeastern State University, the author of the report.

"You’re seeing more recruiting done to the younger population,” he said.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa officers reported gang members as young as 10 years old, compared with the youngest being identified as 12 years old three years ago. Oklahoma City officers reported that some youngsters are recruited as young as 8 years old, the survey states.

Officers reported Oklahoma gangs are becoming more sophisticated in conducting criminal operations by using Internet social networking sites to recruit new members. They are also using cell phones and text messaging for communications related to criminal activities such as drug manufacturing and distribution routes, the survey found.

Gang members are also using cell phones and international dialing to maintain contact with incarcerated gang members or gang members who have been deported to Mexico, Columbia, El Salvador and other Central American countries.

State law enforcement agencies and district attorneys reported 1,026 gangs in 2009, a 2 percent increase compared with the 1,006 gangs reported in 2006, the report shows. Wilds also did the 2006 report.

Law officers reported 13,512 gang members in the state, an increase of 0.26 percent compared with the 13,477 gang members reported in 2006. Nationally, gang members increased 25 percent, according to the National Gang Threat Assessment.

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