School Safety and Emergency Services
“Parents’ Guide to Gangs” is a free pocket guide provided by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Call 850-385-0600 or email for your free copy.

What Is a Gang? Signs of Possible Gang Involvement
What a Gang Is Not What Can You Do As A Parent?
Who Belongs to a Gang? What Resources are Available?
Why Do Young People Join Gangs? Reading Resources

What Is a Gang?
A gang is a group of three or more persons who have a common identifying sign/symbol/name and whose members, with knowledge, individually or collectively commit, attempt to commit, engage in conspiracy to commit, or solicit another to commit criminal acts.up arrow


What a Gang Is Not
A gang is not a group of youth from a particular ethnic group that grows up together, goes to school together, plays sports together, or hangs around in any neighborhood because there is nothing social for them to do.  It is not a group of youth that wears baggy clothes, name brand clothing, unique hairstyles, or certain colored attire, unless the attire is related to committing a crime, or is specifically labeled as a gang identifier.

Who Belongs to a Gang?
Youth join gangs for many different reasons, including peer pressure, financial gain, seeking a sense of identity, fun and excitement, and protection in certain neighborhoods.  Gangs can affect anyone, regardless of where they live or what school they attend.  Young people from all walks of life join gangs.  Some gang members drop out of school, while others may be excellent students.  up arrow


Why Do Young People Join Gangs?
A gang often meets needs that go unfulfilled in other areas of a young person’s life.  The gang may provide a sense of security, loyalty, structure, and discipline.  The following is a list of reasons that may lead a young person to join a gang:

  • Lack of positive influence by/interaction with parents
  • Self-respect/identity
  • Protection/peer intimidation
  • Replacement or substitute family
  • Lack of economic opportunity
  • Desire for excitement/machismo
  • Lack of alternatives in/out of school
  • Prestige/power
  • Friendship/brotherhood
  • Protection/security from gang violence
  • Feeling of belonging/being cared for
  • Media glorification of lifestyleup arrow

Signs of Possible Gang Involvement
The following are some common indicators to look for if you suspect your child may be involved in gang activity.  These indicators are not a guarantee that your child is involved in a gang.  The only way to know for sure is by communicating with your child.

  • Poor academic progress/skipping school/lack of interest in school activities.
  • Large amounts of unsupervised time.
  • Increased conflict at home.
  • Frequent disciplinary problems at home/school.
  • Frequent contact with police.
  • Drawing graffiti.
  • Wearing clothing that is directly linked to an identified gang.
  • Withdraws from family and spends unusual amount of time with individuals involved in criminal activity
  • Uses hand signs while with friends, alone, or out in the community.
  • Owns or keeps documents on which gang names are explicitly drawn or painted.
  • Interest in gang-influenced music, videos, and movies.
  • Consistently participates in gang-sponsored social activities, including “skipping parties” with drug abuse, alcohol abuse,  and high-risk criminal behavior
  • Carries weapons
  • Develops a bad attitude toward family, school, and authority figures.
  • Physical signs of being involved in fights/secrecy as to how injuries are received.
  • Photographs with others displaying gang signs, weapons, or gang-type clothing.
  • Changing normal routines/not coming home after school/staying out late.
  • Drawings/homework with the letters “B” or “C” crossed-out, inverted or used improperly.
  • Unusual writing, markings, numbers, and symbols written on clothes
  • New-found sense of bravery/bragging that they are too tough to be “messed” with.
  • Unexplained cash or goods, such as clothing or jewelry.

If any of these signs are present, you should not automatically conclude that your child is involved in a gang.  Instead, you should talk with them to determine whether or not they are involved in a gang and, if so, at what level.  We can provide warning signs to look for, but only by communicating with your child will you know for sure.up arrow


What Can You Do As A Parent?
Parents play a pivotal role in keeping young people out of gangs.  Negative influences within the family—including domestic violence, child abuse, harsh or inconsistent parenting practices, and/or drug/alcohol abuse by family members can increase the risk that a youth will join a gang.  Parents can protect their children from gang activity through positive actions such as the ones listed below.

  • Maintain open communication with your child.
  • Get in the habit of discussing problems with your child and his/her friends.
  • Look for opportunities to show your child how important he or she is to you.
  • Regularly spend time with your child.
  • Take time to know your child’s friends.  Know where your child is going and with whom.
  • Set clear and consistent boundaries and limits for children.  Enforce these limits consistently.
  • Provide discipline that is fair, appropriate, and timely.
  • Investigate activities available for your child and his/her friends—sports, art, dance, theater, music, cooking, swimming, camping, and scouting.  If you don’t find the activities, start them yourself. 
  • Be a good role model.  Educate yourself on issues important to young people.
  • Use community resources: individual and family counseling, and support groups.  There are many organizations that help families deal with this problem.
  • Discuss concerns with the social worker and/or counselor at school.
  • Talk with your clergyman.up arrow

What Resources are Available?
To report any alleged gang-related graffiti or a gang-related crime, call the Baltimore County Police Department’s Gang Tip Line at 410-823-0785.  In an emergency call 911.

To find services such as mental health, addiction and counseling for high-risk youth, contact the Baltimore County Health Department Bureau of Mental Health at 410-887-2731.

To find out about after-school programs that may be available for your child, contact your local school directly.

To find out about after school programs available at Police Athletic League (PAL) centers, click the link below to get the number for your local PAL center.
To find out about alternative school programs that may be available to your child, contact the Baltimore County Public Schools Office of Alternative Programs, Summer School, and Drop-out Prevention at 410-887-2270.up arrow


Reading Resources
“Adventures in Parenting” (Spanish)
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African-American Males by Freeman Hrabowski
Cool Pose: The Dilemma of Black Manhood in America by Majors and Mancini
Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell
Hearts and Hands by Luis Rodriguez
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way by Luis Rodriguez
Life in Prison by Tookie Williams
Makes Me Want to Holler by Nathan McCall
The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream by Davis, Jenkins, and Hunt
The Warrior Method by Dr. Raymond Winbush
Think Big: Understanding Your Potential for Excellence by Benjamin Carson
Tough Notes: A Healing Call for Black Men by Haki Madhubuti
Visions for Black Men by Na’im Akbarup arrow


Useful Links
Baltimore County Public Schools Manual: Preventing Gang Involvement

Baltimore County Police Department Counseling Unit

Baltimore County Health Department

Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks

National Youth Gang Center

The Information on this Page Was Provided by the Following Sources:
Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department
Montgomery County Gang Prevention Task Force
Montgomery County Police Department and State’s Attorney’s Office
OJJDP’s “Parents’ Guide to Gangs”
University of Illinois Extension Family Worksup arrow

Denise Haberkam
Office of School Safety
9610 Pulaski Park Drive, Suite 219
Baltimore, MD 21220
Office Phone: 410-887-6439
Fax: 410-780-9480
Hotline Other Forms & Hotlines
Immediate Emergency call 911
To report any incident relating to safety in our schools use
Safe Schools Tip Hotline 1-877-636-6332
Text / E-mail
Maryland Suicide and Crisis Hotline 1-800-422-0009
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