Many of Iowa’s larger communities are seeing a growing problem with gangs, but perhaps the worst developments are in Omaha-Council Bluffs. That metro area is seeing a trend where children as young as 12 are involved in violent gang crimes.
Bruce Farrell, president of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, says the new recruits learn by example. Farrell says, “We have a multi-generational group of gang kids now where our older gang kids, over the years, now have their kids and younger grandkids and they’re all learning to be good gang members from their families.” It’s a cycle that’s difficult to break as young people feel they’re learning the “family business.”
“That culture thrives on status,” he says. “It thrives on putting in work for the group. The younger kids are emulating what they see in their older siblings and their parents and what their grandparents have been doing for all these years.” Just how many gangs are active in the Omaha area isn’t known. A report out earlier this month estimated the metro area had perhaps 30 active gangs but Farrell says that’s an outdated figure.
“We haven’t used that number 30 since at least 2008,” Farrell says. “We used to use the number 30 as far as gang groupings. We’d say, ‘Okay, we’ve got Bloods in town,’ but of those Bloods, we might have 15 or 16 different sets.” He says a more realistic number of metro area gangs is more likely between 75 and 80.
The Midwest Gang Investigators Association was formed in 1987 in Elkhorn, Nebraska. Its website says the organization is “a unique alliance of criminal justice professionals dedicated to the promotion and coordination of national, state and local anti-gang strategies and initiatives.” The association has about 2,000 members in Iowa and 11 other states.