Street gangs and their nexus to criminal violence associated with drug trafficking in South Florida is an increasing trend. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced in October 2007 the results of their first gang survey since 1995. According to this survey there are at least 1,500 gangs and well over 65,000 gang members in Florida. South Florida continues to experience growth in its regional street gangs, and most of these are involved in the retail illicit drug market across the entire region.


Uniform Crime Reports Summary

Year Population Total Crime Index % Change from Previous Year
2006 1,753,162 75,314  
  2007 1,765,707 79,832 6.00
2006 2,437,022 145,346  
  2007 2,462,292 155,050 6.70
2006 80,510 4,103  
  2007 78,987 4,041 -1.50
Palm Beach
2006 1,287,987 63,798  
  2007 1,295,033 65,180 2.20

Change % Average 3.35

The typical gang involved in the South Florida drug trade is a local, loosely structured, and highly motivated organization that profits from drug sales. These entities are insular and difficult to infiltrate since they are based on long term relationships of neighborhood associates. Although informal in structure, they still maintain a distinct hierarchy. Their “business model” is almost exclusively middle distribution, in that they procure larger quantities of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, MDMA, and diverted pharmaceuticals and resell them to local users. Gangs protect their local “turf’ and means of procurement with violence. A recent investigation in the metropolitan area revealed a local Hispanic gang that had been in operation for years and were unknown to local police because they unusually non-violent in their activities.

These local groups organize based on common interests and a sense of loyalty to individuals from their city, neighborhood, street, or housing complex. They adopt generic names such as Players, Posse, Crew, Mafia, Gang, and Bad Boys, often attaching their particular street or avenue name as part of the gang’s name. Some South Florida gangs may adopt alliances with national street gang such as the Bloods, Crips, or Chicago-based Folk Nation and People Nation sets and use their symbols and identifiers. This “merging” of gang identification often occurs in regional county jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities.

Total Gang Members by County

Members Gangs
3,279 301
1,379 170
3 2
Palm Beach
939 736
5,600 1,219

Hundreds of these local gangs have been identified in every city from Palm Beach to the Florida Keys. Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement gang database is shown in the table. Gangs are found in small rural towns, upper middle-class neighborhoods, metropolitan areas, schools, and other areas where gang existence is often not really noticed or addressed.

According to a recent SFLHIDTA Survey, there are an estimated 25,000 gang members and associates in approximately 700 gangs in this region. The survey results include regional law enforcement agencies data. A majority of the surveyed agencies reported a significant increase in gang activities over the last year.

Regional and international gang composition is typically nationality or ethnically focused and includes Dominicans, Haitians, African-Americans, Cubans, Hispanics, and others in their membership. While their influence in South Florida drug crime is not as significant as the problem of local “neighborhood” gangs, they are more likely to engage in violence to achieve short term objectives. These associations can result from external recruitment efforts (i.e. prison gangs). Their use of assault weapons is a significant concern expressed by local law enforcement agencies. The threat posed by street gangs and illicit drugs is intertwined and the interdiction effort must address both concerns – increasing violent crimes and illicit drug trafficking.