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Survey: More teens are in gangs than police thought

PHOENIX — A new study by Arizona State University and Sam Houston State University has come up with some startling new statistics on how many American teens are joining gangs.

The survey says that about 1 million American children under the age of 17 say they are in a gang. That is about three times the number that police agencies had thought.

Police use surveys based on arrest data from law enforcement agencies to find out how many people are in gangs.

“We took a different approach,” said Gary Sweeten, a Criminology and Criminal Justice Associate professor at ASU. “(Our study) was based on surveys of juveniles, where they are asked if they are gang members or not.”

Sweeten has explanation of why their numbers were so much higher than those of law enforcement agencies.

“Not all gang members are detected by police jurisdictions,” Sweeten said. “We’re getting people who are involved in gangs but aren’t necessarily getting arrested.”

Sweeten said that many people believe that gangs attract boys and men from low income areas, but the survey had some surprising results.

“Thirty percent of the gang members in our sample were girls,” Sweeten said. “Most of the gang members in our sample were white, and most were from families above the poverty level.”

The survey found that kids are in a gang for about one to two years, and the turnover rate is high. It found that 400,000 teens a year join a gang, while another 400,000 a year leave one.

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