While violent crimes in the United States are on the decline, law enforcement officials have recently been leveling criminal charges against organized crimes at an increased rate.
According to a CBS News report, the federal government has observed an uptick in gang activity, with more than 1.4 million members belonging to at least 33,000 criminal gangs nationwide.
Sources estimate that the total number of gang members has risen by roughly 400,000 in the past two years, although some believe the numbers are increasing because of improved reporting practices by local police forces.
In a recent press conference, FBI agent Jayne Challman told reporters that gang leaders are increasingly collaborating with other criminal operations to maximize their profits and enforcement abilities.
In addition, gangs are no longer limited to their traditional realms, such as drug trafficking and illicit weapons sales. Today, gangs are avoiding drug arrests by expanding their operations to include mortgage fraud and counterfeiting, often on an international scale.
Gangs are also allegedly dipping into other non-traditional criminal operations, including the production of pirated video games, which requires a relatively high level of technological skill and initial capital investment.
The CBS News report cites the activities of a Los Angeles gang called Florencia 13, which owns a lab that manufactures illegal video games, as evidence for the increasing popularity amongst gangs of so-called white collar crimes.
Other anecdotes of sophisticated gangs include a clothing store owned by the East Coast Crips which serves as a front for counterfeit goods and drug trafficking, as well as an expansive mortgage fraud operation run by members of the Bloods gang in San Diego.
Thus, it appears that home buyers now have more to fear than predatory lenders or aggressive banks. Criminal gangs themselves have joined the ranks of unsavory characters who prey on potential homeowners.
While the trend of increased gang activity has affected the entire country, sources indicate that levels of gang ownership have been rising most rapidly in the northeast and southeastern portions of the United States.
In addition, gangs are increasingly organizing themselves along ethnic lines, with individual gangs limiting membership to certain ethnic identities. CBS News observes that many gangs are based on Asian, African, Caribbean, or Caucasian identities.
As law enforcement officials continue to arrest more and more gangs for white-collar crimes, they may have to change the nature of their policing efforts.
Traditionally, police have focused on gangs’ control of urban drug trade, or their illegal trafficking of weapons and, in some cases, people.
Today, however, police are being forced to expand the scope of their operations, as they try to ferret out gangs that deal in more sophisticated, non-violent crimes such as pirating videos or engaging in mortgage fraud, which are proving to be more lucrative to professional criminals.