Gang Awareness

Myths About Gangs

  • There are no gang members in Lawrence.
  • Gang members are only ethnic minorities.
  • Gang members are poor kids.
  • Gang members are only male.
  • All gang members wear 'colors'.
  • All gang members sell drugs.

What Is A Gang?

A street gang is a group of people who unite for a common purpose and engage in violent, unlawful, criminal and antisocial behavior. They often claim control over certain territory in a community.

How Did Gangs Begin In Lawrence?

Gangs in Lawrence have been influenced by established gangs in other mid-western cities. Visitors and youth relocating from major urban areas have also influenced the development of gang affiliation. Some of today's popular music and artists glorify gang culture. Gang members have been observed in most areas where juveniles like to gather.

Gangs in Lawrence have rarely exhibited the violent behaviors associated with gang activity in larger communities. Because of the infrequent use of weapons to date, many people do not believe that gangs are present or a problem in our community.

Over time, without prevention and intervention activities, gang involvement can be expected to increase.

Currently, illegal drug dealing, theft, burglary, physical assaults, racial harassment, underage drinking, and in some instances the carrying of weapons are the major activities of Lawrence gangs.

How Is A Gang Structured?

Leadership roles in street gangs are usually not formerly recognized positions. Leadership is most often assumed by one or more members who exhibit exceptional antisocial and/or criminal behavior or long term affiliation.

Gangs are usually made up of males ranging in age from 12 to 22 years old. Members represent all racial and ethnic groups. Females play an important role. They have been known to carry weapons, and to transport and hold drugs for male gang members. Young members are often used to carry, hide, or sell drugs, or weapons. They are used because of the less severe legal punishment if they are caught.

Why Do Young People Join Gangs?

Youth join gangs for a variety of reasons including the excitement of gang activity, peer pressure, status, attention, protection, family benefit, family tradition, and lack of realization about the hazards involved. In many cases, young people are not discouraged from gang involvement by their parents. Often, parents do not realize that their children are engaged in gang activity. Although a number of factors add to the chance of gang involvement, statistics show the typical youth gang member comes from a single parent family with a mother as the head of the household or a family with a history of gang or criminal activity. While a parent is attempting to provide for the family, often working second jobs or high paying second and third shift jobs, there is a great amount of freedom and unsupervised time available to some young people.

How Are Gangs Identified?

Most gang members are proud of their gang and freely admit to their membership, even to law enforcement officers. Many openly display tattoos and brands and adopt a style of dress which identifies their gang. Their personal belongings are frequently covered with the gang's name.

Gang members often use hand signs to identify the gang to which they belong, and often use nicknames when they are among other gang members. Many individuals on the border of gang involvement are reluctant to identify themselves as members. They often claim that their friends are members, while denying membership themselves. Borderline gang involvement can be dangerous, because retaliation and violence involving rival gangs may be directed either toward gang members or toward their associates. Distinctions are not made between the two.

Why Is Graffiti Used?

Graffiti is the advertisement of gangs. It is used as a means of communicating, marking territories, identifying sources of illegal drugs and claiming responsibility for violent acts. It is also used to intimidate, and to provide individual gang members with a means of showing gang association and allegiance.

What Do Gangs Do?

It is not practical to examine everything a gang does. In fact, many gang activities are frequently shared by a large portion of society. But when a gang is involved, the potential for violence and criminal activity is far greater. Gang members seek confrontation with rivals. Sometimes the incidents take place in parks, near schools, entertainment areas and other public places. Gang criminal activity can be seen in increased robberies, burglaries, assaults, batteries, vandalism, and shoplifting. Intimidation is the hallmark of gang activity.

Do We Have Gangs In Lawrence?

It is well documented that gang members live in Lawrence. In addition, gang members from along the I-70, K-10, US-59 corridor between Kansas City and Topeka often come to Lawrence to recruit, socialize, and commit criminal acts. Lawrence is only one city, among thousands nation wide (rural and urban), witnessing the emergence of gangs. Fortunately, our community in cooperation with other agencies and organizations have been active for quite some time sharing information and acting together to confront this rise. An action plan to include parents and the general public is being developed.

How Are Gang Problems Being Addressed?

A multi-agency task force on gang-related activities, called Project Phoenix, has been created to proactively confront this issue. The mission of the task force is to reduce and/or eliminate existing and future threats to our community which are imposed by the existence and presence of gangs, gang related activities, and serious habitual offenders.

This task force is composed of representatives from the Police Department, Juvenile Court System, Sheriff's Office, Community Corrections Office, Douglas County Court Services, City of Lawrence, School District, Social Service Agencies, Lawrence Housing Authority, SRS, Kansas University and DCCCA.


Strategies are being developed to formally educate and inform young people, and to assist them in recognizing the hazards involved in gang and drug-related activities. As young people experience greater peer pressure and financial tension, they are being forced to make adult decisions that may have adult consequences. These decisions are often made before the skills to make meaningful life choices have been developed. Several programs are currently in place to develop decision-making skills for our youth. In Lawrence, the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs has been added to the elementary school curriculum.

Lawrence police officers and court services personnel provide presentations to the community. These presentations are designed to make gang activity and violence even more identifiable, as well as to help reduce criminal activity.


Suppression strategies involve programs used by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to deal with offenders. Strong suppression has removed many youth from the community. Recent sentencing decisions have sent a clear signal that violent activity will not be treated lightly. The Douglas County District Attorney's office has pledged to seek maximum incarceration terms for gang members.

Public Awareness

Immediate action must be taken to eliminate graffiti. If graffiti is observed, please notify Community Corrections at (785) 832-5354.

We must exercise the "three R's" with respect to this most visible sign of gang presence. We must report it, record it, and remove it.

How to Discourage Your Children From Gang Involvement

Develop good communication with your children. Good communication is open, frequent and positive. It allows for your children to come to you to discuss any topic or problem. It does not condemn or put down. Good communication allows you to tell your children that you love them.

Occupy your children's free time. Give then responsibilities at home. Get them involved in after school sports, city recreation or church activities.

Spend time with your children. Plan activities that the whole family can enjoy, and spend some time alone with your children.

Expose them to different places outside of your neighborhood, parks, museums, and other places of interest. Give them your attention! If you don't, someone else will.

Participate and take an interest in your children's education. Visit their school. Meet teachers and attend parent school meetings. Help your children with their school work. Set high standards and help them live by those standards.

Discourage your children from associating with gang members. Meet your children's friends. Find out who they are, what influences they have with your children and how they and your children spend their free time. If your child chooses friends who are affiliated with gangs, then your child is probably involved or will become involved in one. Keep asking questions even if met with denial. Follow your instincts if behavior is not consistent with the answers you receive.

Do not allow your children to write or practice writing gang names, symbols or any other gang graffiti on their books, papers, clothes, bodies, walls or any other place. Teach respect for other's property.

Develop an antigang environment in your home. Express often and clearly to your children at an early age your disapproval of gang activity and of any family member involved with gangs.

Learn about gang and drug activity in your community. Attend informational meetings and read articles related to gang activity. Become an informed parent.

Participate in the community. Know your neighbors. Know the police officers who patrol your neighborhood. Work with police to eliminate any gang presence in your community. If you see gang graffiti, report it immediately to the Lawrence Police Department at (785) 832-7509.  For additional information on graffiti and graffiti removal, please click here.  If you suspect gang activity or members within your neighborhood, contact the Lawrence Police Department at (785) 832-7509. Attend community functions. Teach your children to be proud of their community.

Be a good example. Become an active, not a passive parent.