According to Gangs in New Jersey: Municipal Law Enforcement Response to the 2010 NJSP Gang Survey — a recently-released report from the New Jersey State Police — there are more than 166 gangs in Essex County, which make up 11% of the state’s total gang population. This figure places Essex at the top of the nine counties in NJ that reported 90 or more groups.
While the mere mention of local gang activity is enough to bring to mind horrors like drive-by shootings and vicious initiation challenges, the 2010 survey revealed that few gangs currently engage in dramatic or violent crime, extremist political ideologies or are connected to extremist organizations. It’s reported that while gangs take part in a wide variety of crimes on school property, the most common gang activity was the display of gang clothing and signs.
Few gangs were reported to have an intent to target the general public, elected officials or law enforcement with violence. However, a fifth (19 percent) of all NJ gangs active in heroin distribution are located in Essex County, with Newark, East Orange, Orange and Irvington reporting the bulk of the heroin-trafficking.
Statewide, gangs do not appear to have spread significantly. They are reported in roughly the same numbers of municipalities as in 2007 when the last survey was conducted. Other top ranking counties are Monmouth (132), Middlesex (126), Ocean (114), Bergen (108), Camden (107), Burlington (101), Atlantic (97), and Union (95).
“Raising awareness with the release of this survey will benefit law enforcement and the public,” said Attorney General Paula Dow. “While each community may have a different set of concerns, we all have a vital interest in addressing the problem of street gangs. Their negative influence transcends crimes by spreading fear and intimidation. That’s why gangs will remain the focus of concerted law enforcement efforts and preventative initiatives for the foreseeable future,” she said.
This is the fourth survey of its kind since the program was initiated in 2001. It is intended to “measure the dimensions of the gang environment in the state by surveying a sample of full-time municipal police agencies.” For the first time, the 2010 survey succeeding in gathering responses concerning New Jersey street gangs for every municipality in the state.