The percentage of teenagers reporting gangs at their schools has nearly doubled since 1989, and more students reported being victims of violent crime at schools where gangs were present.
The increased gang presence came even though overall crime victimization, including thefts, in school buildings, grounds and buses remained steady between 1989 and 1995 at less than 15 percent of students, the Education and Justice departments reported Sunday.However, the percentage of youths aged 12 to 19 who reported being victims of violence such as a physical attack or robbery by force, weapons or threats rose from 3.4 to 4.2, equal to about 1 million of the 24 million youth that age in public and private schools.
The reports of violent victimization were higher among students who also reported the presence of gangs, drugs or guns at their schools. The percentage of those reporting "street gangs" rose from 15 to 28.
"Gangs, and the guns, drugs and violence that go with them, must be stopped from ever reaching the schoolhouse door," President Clinton said in a statement. He called for Congress to pass anti-gang and youth-violence measures that he offered more than a year ago.
There was a question, however, how much the greater presence of gangs was the result of increased numbers and how much the result of heightened awareness.
"What we're seeing, I think, is that more people are aware nowadays of what a gang is," said Kathryn A. Chandler, a co-author of the report. "The media exposure makes them perhaps more recognizable."
The report also does not say how students decided who is in a gang, said Chandler, of the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics. The survey asked detailed questions to arrive at an answer, but that information has yet to be analyzed.
A separate, earlier report by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, said stereotyping can often lead communities to "mistakenly link innocent activities of ethnic youth to gang involvement."
The report cautioned that the study, based on a survey of about 10,000 students, gives a snapshot of two separate years and does not necessarily indicate a stable trend.
Indeed, other government data show that violent crime by juveniles peaked in 1994 and declined for two years since then. Arrests of teenagers for violent crimes dropped 2.9 percent.
The nation's attention was turned to school violence and gangs last month after two boys, aged 11 and 13, were charged with killing four pupils and a teacher at a middle school in Jonesboro, Ark. Classmate Melinda Henson said 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson claimed to be part of a gang and wore some type of red "every day, because he was in the Blood Gang."
The increased gang presence indeed was reported everywhere: cities, suburbs and small towns. In central cities, students reporting street gangs rose from 24.8 percent to 40.7 percent; in suburbs, from 14.0 percent to 26.3 percent, and in non-metropolitan areas from 7.8 percent to 19.9 percent.
Law enforcement authorities in mostly rural states such as Oklahoma have reported a surge in gang activities as gangs look for expanded drug markets. The presence of gangs in the suburbs of Detroit and other major cities has led to police crackdowns.
Sunday's report said only that problems with gangs, guns, drugs and violence "tended to co-exist," and it did not explore whether gangs were responsible for the guns or drugs.
In 1995, however, 7.5 percent of all students who reported gangs in their schools also said they had fallen victim to violent crime there, compared with just 2.7 percent of the students reporting no gangs.
Drugs were slightly more available than before, with 65.3 percent of students reporting that marijuana, powder and crack cocaine, amphetamines and barbiturates were available at school.