A new study shows that gangs are no longer just an inner city problem. The National Gang Center recently released a study that estimated 55 percent of all gang activity occurs in big cities, and 41 percent occurs in either suburbs or smaller cities. This adds up to a lot of kids being involved in gang life.

A Houston officer explains that kids join gangs because they are looking for “leadership…guidance….connection…and a sense of belonging.” At this point in time there are 200 documented gangs in Houston, which adds up to 17,000 gang members. This total keeps Houston behind cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago in gang numbers, but still suggests that the city has a widespread problem.

One officer said that teachers begin to notice changes in students behavior that might indicate they are getting involved in gang activity. At first they are doing well, and then suddenly there is a drop in their grades and a change in attitude. A school official also pointed out that it’s not only tough kids that are recruited. Gangs often talk to those who are bullied in school, promising them protection and acceptance.

According to Click 2 Houston, students between 6th grade and 8th grade are the most vulnerable, although Houston City police say they have encountered kids as young as 10 years old participating in gang activity. As far as prevention goes, the mayor has a program dedicated solely to alleviating gang numbers, and the HPD sends officers into schools that are high risk and teach kids (especially middle school children) about gang resistance.

Click here to see Click 2 Houston video coverage of the phenomenon.