Membership in Orange County street gangs continued to rise in 2002, according to a study released Friday by the district attorney's office.
The study also said that the district attorney has a conviction rate of 92.5% when prosecuting gang members.
"We are sending a loud-and-clear message to those who are contemplating joining a gang," Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a written statement. "Either stay away from criminal street gangs and grow up and prosper, or join a gang and grow old in prison."
According to the study, done by the district attorney's office, there were 150 more gang members (for a total of 17,456) and eight more gangs at the end of 2002 compared to a year before. That translated into 36 gang-related homicides in Orange County -- an overall increase from the previous four years, yet just half the number in 1994.
At the same time, the study reported, criminal charges were filed against 1,058 gang defendants and adult gang-related defendants, resulting in 59 trials at which 187 gang members were committed to state prison and 13 others sent to the California Youth Authority.
"Participation in gangs is a dead-end street," Rackauckas said in the statement.