This blog is all that remains from the former website which was closed after 8 years of providing a 'wiki' of urban street gangs in London.

An unfinished history of modern urban street gangs in London has been used to replace some of the content of the original site, beginning here

Friday, 15 February 2013

Preventing Gang Crime (page from original site)


Preventing Gang Crime (2011)

“There is no panacea for the solution of the gang problem and its related crime”, Frederick Thrasher (1927, p.369).


The problem of urban violence is increasingly being laid at the blame of “gangs” and with this increased focus on gangs other more plausible causes to issues of urban violence are being overlooked. The roots of urban violence are manifold. Youth gangs are symptomatic of many of the same social and economic problems as adult crime; mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism and multi-generation “benefit families” living in poverty.

Concern is being driven by the growing accounts of the media with violent incidents involving young people increasingly being reducible to the gang amidst a supposed ‘burgeoning’ youth gang culture. The problem of street violence as essentially a problem of gangs is flawed on empirical, theoretical and methodological grounds. The problem of urban violence in multiply deprived neighbourhoods is not essentially a problem of gangs and should not be constructed as if it is. This belief has pushed into the background the multitude of other factors that have a determinate effect on street-violence.

The coverage of the gang in the media bears many of the hallmarks of a moral panic in that reporting is out of all proportion to the actual threat.
  • Gang membership in the UK is no more than 3-7% (Home Office) of youths whilst 90% (Youth Justice Board) of youths regardless of ethnicity have not been involved in crime.
  • Gangs do not pose a significant threat to the safety of the wider community (most “gang-crime” occurs between “gang-members”).
  • There is no reliable definition as to what a gang is; furthermore not all gang members commit crime. According to a Home Office study of young gang members only 20% of self-defined members reported to having engaged in violence, weapon and drug related offences.
  • There is no accurate way to count and define “gang-related” crime, the true motive behind many so-called gang crimes lies in interpersonal disputes and trivial matters unrelated to the gang as a collective. 

The attention that the gang has received has led to mistaken conclusions that it alone is the problem and the solution to urban violence lies in suppressing the gang. As a result many of the responses have been shaped by political, public and media pressure to address gang issues within local authority boundaries. Public fear has been a consequence of media portrayals with stories that reinforce common beliefs about gangs, emphasising violent behaviour associated to gangs and gang members. Television news programmes and the front pages of newspapers often show the outcome of the most recent episode of gang violence and how it had affected neighbourhood residents or resulted in the injury or death of an innocent bystander.

Although many of these images and perceptions were the product of media generalisation and sensationalism, most researchers agree that gang behaviour had in fact changed from 2006 onwards, particularly with regard to violence. In the past gangs had rarely engaged in fights; when they did, the fights hardly ever resulted in serious injury. The use of firearms was an extremely isolated event. Although most so-called gang activity revolves around low level ASB and “hanging around” an increasing amount of offences involving knives being used to injure were occurring.

Recommended Reading: Gang talk and gang talkers: A critique (Hallsworth & Young 2008)

Partnership Approaches

In a number of areas local groups and police have begun to set up responses to gangs within their local authority boundaries although often due to political pressures and public fear driven by the media rather as a result of the objective reality of the gang problem.

At the early stages of gang development in the United States the development of such groups was the typical response in American cities with populations of 100,000 and over. A number of findings from studies on gang groups and police specific units conclude that:

Few formal mechanisms (such as standard operating procedures, defining gang-related crime and gang-member) are in place
  • Gang teams lack special policies, procedures or rules
  • Lack of managerial involvement reduced accountability
  • Casual approaches to performance measurement contributed to a sense of autonomy and lack of accountability
  • Excludes the community / do not practice community based policing
  • Rarely sought resident input, rarely formed partnerships with community groups, local businesses and other agencies. Partnerships were more likely with criminal justice personnel and were established and maintained for the express purpose of exchanging gang related intelligence. Police did not generally value information from non-criminal justice agencies
  • Officers and practitioners are poorly trained on gang related matters, such as how to correctly document gang members, an introduction to gang culture etc
  • Units lack adequate performance measures
  • Rarely engage in evaluation orientated activities, typically judged using global, subjective evaluation standards
  • Most important benefits of units was sharing / establishing intelligence on individuals
  • Substantial value was placed on suppression orientated enforcement. However, individual officers have limited contact with gang members. Furthermore, the nature of the contact often did not result in arrest but rather intelligence gathering
  • Most agencies responded to gang problems because of well publicised gang homicides and fights without carrying out a needs assessment to gauge the reality of the problem
  • No engagement of long-term planning processes or conducted research to monitor the changing nature of the problem
  • No meaningful evaluations of effectiveness of specialised or other departmental efforts related exclusively to gang enforcement. The highest priority of such units is to respond to crime whilst the lowest priority was of prevention and treatment strategies. 

Through fear of the situation worsening many local officials believe the way to stop it is to remove gang members from society through the criminal justice system (although this ignores the steady flow of new gang membership and does not address the reasons why young people form and join gangs in the first place) which is why it has been viewed as an unsuccessful approach in America which has in turn contributed to a young swelling prison population and proliferation of established gangs in prisons.

To address the gang problems successfully it is important that police, partners and practitioners have a good understanding of the problem. Contemporary youth gang violence is a symptom of other, deeper social problems (e.g. lack of economic opportunity and decaying social structures) and dealing with gangs requires a comprehensive approach that involves all members of the criminal justice community, schools, community leaders and young people themselves.

Some specific problems in addressing the situation is the fact that police, prosecutor and legislative definitions of gangs, gang-related crime, and gang members differ widely.

Recommended Reading: Police responses to gangs - a multi-site study (Katz et al 2003)

A "Gang"

This is not to discuss the definition of a gang, in over 100 years of definitions a consensus on one definition has yet to have been established.

Would we really care if kids joined gangs if gangs did not engage in criminal activity? Probably not; in fact, some positive gang values (group cohesiveness, loyalty, respect, discipline, etc) are encouraged to a large extent in legitimate activities.

We can become over reliant on assigning the gang label to groups based on criminal behaviour; however, many gangs do not engage solely in criminal acts – but it is criminal gangs that we are concerned with.

In taking this approach we have to recognise that application of the gang label, as either a term applied to describe the problem of violence in urban areas or when posed in a circular manner as an explanation of it (violence occurs because of the gangs), will not advance our understanding, but may misrepresent current problems.

Problems of street violence should not be reduced to the gang. The street reality is far more fluid, volatile and amorphous. If you begin the assumption that the gang is at the heart of the violence you want to explain, then invariably you will find that gang suppression is the solution to the problem, even if there is an excess to the violence which is not gang related.

Criminal gangs exist in low-income areas where there are close relationships between adolescents and adult criminals. Conflict involving gangs develop in communities with dilapidated conditions and transient populations. When criminal opportunities do not exist, gangs fight to gain social status and protect their integrity. Networks of gang members can remain in existence even after individuals leave gangs because they are tied by friendship, area allegiance and other social relations. The gang is a continuous flux and flow with constantly shifting internal alliances, membership and participatory structures.

Gangs usually operate in a given area because that location is the only place they are strong enough to feel secure and in control, not because that particular territory is fundamental to their self-definition. This is not to say groups do not create an organisational identity using a geographic area yet they are prepared to occupy as much geographic space as they are capable of occupying and they can extend over large areas and boundaries and in some cases relocate under suppression.

Often the motives behind violence involving gangs have little to do with the gang itself and more to do with individuals and their interpersonal disputes. Herein lays the issue of identifying who is a gang member?

Recommended Reading: Youth gang definitional issues, when is a gang a gang and why does it matter? (Esbensen et al 2001)

A "Gang Member"

Gang members spend most of their time in engaging in exaggerated versions of typical adolescent behaviour (rebelling against authority, disobeying parents, wearing clothing and listening to music that sets them apart from most adults, and having a primary allegiance to a group). Only a fraction of their time is dedicated to gang activity. Gang life is a very dull life. For the most part, gang members do very little—sleep, get up late, hang around, brag a lot, eat again, drink, hang around some more.

According to Home Office research, drug and weapons offences are activities engaged in by less than 20% of self-defined gang members.

Research suggests gang members are significantly more likely to hold pro-delinquent views and engage in more delinquent behaviour than non-gang members. Research indicates that gang membership facilitates criminal behaviour showing that involvement in criminal activity increases significantly when young people join gangs and decreases when they leave.

Evidence also shows that most gang members are extremely sharp. Ironically, it is precisely their ‘cognitive competence’ in creating business ventures and eluding the authorities that has made it difficult to eradicate them. Because gang members are intelligent and competent, they have proved stubborn adversaries to the various institutions that have attempted to eliminate them as social problems.

The strongest predictors of sustained gang affiliation were a high level of interaction with antisocial peers and a low level of interaction with pro-social peers. Association with delinquent peers is one of the strongest predictors (that is, risk factors) of gang membership.

While recognising the relevance of group dynamics to offending, it is important that police activity tackles the criminality associated with gang membership and not gang or peer group membership per se. The risk of criminalising youth involvement in collectives of various kinds is that those young people who may only be on the fringes of criminal activity will be alienated and thereby propelled further into genuine criminality. Moreover, tailoring interventions to address behaviour rather than affiliation provides greater scope for community support for police action, especially in areas in which gang membership is integral to community life.

We must be able to identify and recognise gang members who criss-cross borough boundaries at will and who may show up at citywide events (such as carnivals, clubs and music festivals). Increased mobility of gang members requires that police and partner agencies strongly consider cross-border collaboration, particularly whereby rivalries and alliances extend into neighbouring areas.

One area of concern is related to the amount of discretion that law enforcement officials have in documenting gang-related phenomena. Some have suggested that police officials often act in an arbitrary manner when documenting an individual as a gang member. This has resulted in a number of individuals being unfairly labelled as gang members. Individuals are often documented solely as a consequence of the neighbourhood in which they live, their relationship with a documented gang member, or their style of dress.

Recommended Reading: The validity of police gang intelligence lists (Katz et al 2000)
A "Gang-Related" Crime

Firstly, many crimes that characterise the culture go unreported. Secondly, the fear that is created and permeates the culture in question cannot be represented in crime statistics; crucially, it is this aspect of the culture that can act as a dominant influence in the decision of a young person to carry a weapon.

Many offences whereby young people, particularly from minority communities, engage in serious violence are corralled into descriptive such as ‘gang wars’ or ‘gang culture’ therefore misrepresenting a complex, multi-layered situation. Invoking the term gang adds little to our understanding or violent street life though it certainly obscures its complexities.

The risk of taking a beating by straying outside your local area has a long history in working class areas that reaches back well beyond the current fascination with territorial conflict. The reality is that disenfranchised young people dwell in a world where violence (threat and actual) is never far away.

Analysis of the documented gang members’ arrest records indicated that whereas documented youth were infrequently arrested for major crimes such as homicide, rape, or arson, they were frequently arrested for other crimes such as burglary and personal robbery. Documented gang members were typically arrested for misdemeanour's assault, burglary, drug violations, as well as minor other notifiable crimes.

The use of the term “gang-related” is inconsistent; often we classify an incident as gang related simply because the individual involved is a gang member.

Part of the difficulty lies in separating those acts carried out by the individual member from those carried out collectively. It is impossible to identify separately incidents committed by an individual gang member from those committed by the gang. The issue is more important because really to understand the extent of gang related crime and violence we have to determine whether the crime is actually ‘gang-related’.

Not all violence committed by gang members is gang related. Violence may be committed by gang members, but it is not gang related if it is not enacted as part of a gang’s effort to further its own achievements, productivity and objectives. Another important finding is that delinquency and involvement in crime precedes gang membership.

With little income to buy flashy clothes and other consumer goods advertised throughout our society, a poor minority youth may find the “illegitimate opportunities” available through gangs, crime and drug sales more compelling than the legitimate options available to them. In focussing on the most serious criminality, it is also important to recognise that much of this is likely to occur spontaneously and as a result of disputes over personal issues and matters of respect rather than in the context of organised, acquisitive or drug-related crime.

Recommended Reading: Issues in the production and dissemination of gang statistics (Charles M. Katz 2003)

Dealing with gangs, gang members and gang crime


Prevention should be heavily emphasised in any strategy addressing youth gangs, yet it is probably the most neglected type of intervention. We have to figure out a way to reach youths before they get involved with gangs.

Prevention programmes have the broadest audience of interest although are typically aimed at the wider youth population. Prevention programmes can be focussed to specific environments (certain pre-schools, primary schools, geographic areas); the typical goal is to reduce future gang membership amongst young people regardless.

Gang prevention programs have been rare. They require accurate knowledge of the predictors of gang membership, that is, identifying likely gang members, and they require knowledge of the causes of gangs and gang membership. Finally, they require knowledge of the likely impact of prevention efforts.

  • General prevention efforts that target the entire adolescent population may prove beneficial in reducing youth gang involvement.
  • Prevention focusses on the entire population at risk and the identification of those conditions (personal, social, environmental) that promote criminal behaviour

  • Prevention programmes fail to attend to individuals already in gangs
  • Even if well implemented they may have no effect on the gang problem
There is a general lack of consensus about why gangs emerge and why youths join gangs. Therefore, it is more difficult to develop gang prevention programs and assess their impact


Chicago Area Project

The Chicago Area Project (CAP) created in 1934 (and still in operation), was designed to implement social disorganisation theories, which suggested that community organisation could be a major tool for reducing crime and gang problems. CAP was designed to involve local community groups, that is, indigenous community organisations, in improving neighbourhood conditions that were believed to foster the formation of youth groups. Its intent was to prevent delinquency, including gang activity, through neighbourhood and community development. CAP organised community residents through self-help committees based in pre-existing community structures such as church groups and labour unions. It was believed that the cause of maladaptive behaviour was the social environment, not the individual. CAP and other similar programs are, at least in part, primary prevention efforts that target all adolescents in the neighbourhood. CAP introduced its detached worker program, which focused on either at-risk youth or, in some instances, current gang members. It recruited community members to help develop recreational activities and community improvement campaigns (e.g., health care, sanitation, education). These individuals worked with specific neighbourhood gangs and served as advocates for gang members. This included advocating for gang members when they were confronted by the justice system and helping them find employment, health care, and educational assistance, among other services. The intent of the detached worker program was to transform the gang from an antisocial youth group to a pro-social group.

Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.)

This school-based programme begun in 1991 to provide students with real tools to resist the lure and trap of gangs. The 9-week G.R.E.A.T. programme introduces students to conflict resolution skills, cultural sensitivity, and the negative aspects of gang life. G.R.E.A.T. has spread throughout the country; to date, it has been incorporated in school curriculum’s in all 50 States and several other countries. The objectives of the G.R.E.A.T. program are “to reduce gang activity and to educate a population of young people as to the consequences of gang involvement”. The curriculum consists of nine lessons offered once a week to middle school students (primarily seventh graders). Law enforcement officers (who always teach the program) are given detailed lesson plans that clearly state the purposes and objectives of the curriculum. The programme consists of the following nine lessons: introduction; crime, victims, and your rights; cultural sensitivity and prejudice; conflict resolution (two lessons: discussion and practical exercises); meeting basic needs; drugs and neighbourhoods; responsibility; and goal setting. The curriculum includes a discussion about gangs and their effects on the quality of people’s lives and addresses the topic of resisting peer pressure.

Evaluations have reported small but positive effects on students’ attitudes and their ability to resist peer pressure. Students in the G.R.E.A.T. program had a “slightly increased ability” to resist the pressures to join gangs. The G.R.E.A.T. students self-reported less delinquency and had lower levels of gang affiliation, higher levels of school commitment, and greater commitment to pro-social peers, among other positive outcomes. As evidenced by the curriculum, the intent of the G.R.E.A.T. program is to provide life skills that empower adolescents with the ability to resist peer pressure to join gangs. The strategy is a cognitive approach that seeks to produce a change in attitude and behaviour through instruction, discussion, and role-playing. Another notable feature of the program is its target population. In contrast to suppression and intervention programs, which are directed at youth who already are gang members, G.R.E.A.T. is intended for all youth. This is the classic, broad-based primary prevention strategy found in medical immunisation programs: They intervene broadly, with a simple and relatively un-intrusive program, well before any problem is detectable and without any attempt to predict who is most likely to be affected by the problem.

Recommended Reading: Preventing adolescent gang involvement (Finn-Aage Esbensen 2000)


Intervention strategies typically address individuals or places that have manifested some problem; that is, the situation has progressed past risk. In most cases, such programmes attempt to persuade gang members or gang-affiliated youth to abandon their current lifestyle or to reduce gang-related crime.

At this stage, defining the type of gang of interest, the level of individual involvement in the gang, as well as the specific problem of focus becomes extremely important and integral to any success. Intervention programs may include such tactics as a gang truce or the use of detached workers to persuade gang members to leave gang life and reintegrate into the community. Programmes that seek to intervene in the lives of gang-affiliated youth should also be encouraged. Secondary prevention targets those individuals who have been identified as being at greater risk of becoming delinquent.

  • If successful can help young people exit gangs, more success noted with fringe members and youths at-risk of delinquency than actual gang members
  • Potentially can reduce the number of incidents during operational hours (activity based interventions)

  • Simply increasing resources for police and human service programmes is not an effective strategy for dealing with youth gangs
  • Intervention strategies that provide positive alternatives to gang affiliation for youths already in gangs ignore the steady supply of new gang members and the social conditions that breed susceptibility
  • Without financially viable exits it may not be possible to urge members to exit


The Neutral Zone (Washington state)

Offers youths at-risk of joining a gang or already gang-affiliated an attractive and safe alternative for productively spending their time. A late evening programme offering viable recreational and social service activities to 190 youths on Friday and Saturday nights (10PM-2AM), including projects which attempted to enhance youth’s job skills and general socialisation with appropriate adult role models. The programme was located in a local school and provided a wide range of activities (basketball, music, movies) and free food, counselling, and other essential services (job preparation). The main goal was to provide consistency and discipline, to act as role models for the youths, to let kids know they have value and self-worth, to be a safe house and to teach new skills. Evaluations of the scheme showed a reduction in police calls for service during operational hours and the anecdotal and qualitative analysis was very encouraging. However, there was no data on effects on the number of gang members or gang related crimes.

Community Organisation

Should the community view physical surroundings as conducive to gang behaviour programmes may be designed to physically restore neighbourhoods from the effect of gang activity (i.e. appearance, graffiti cleansing). Urban communities should also aim to re-establish strong neighbourhood based centres and programmes to tie the residents together in the pursuit of common concerns. To rebuild a sense of community and collective responsibility.

Social Intervention

Involves traditional social work techniques whereby detached social workers actively work within neighbourhoods to help gang members and at-risk youths find favourable alternatives to gang involvement (this can include mentoring programmes, activity centres, post-sentence social services, drug treatment programmes).

Provision of opportunities

Job preparation, training and placement can assist individuals involved in gangs to modify their lifestyles and become productive community members. Implicit is the idea that many gang members engage in illegal activity because they do not have access to legitimate opportunities and instead seek illegitimate opportunities to attain material goods.

Scholarship in Escrow (Ohio)

Partnership between schools and representatives of the private sector. The programme essentially creates a trust fund for all students enrolled in public secondary schools and credits each of their accounts with $10 for every C, $20 for every B, and $40 for every A earned in school. The money goes into a scholarship fund, where it earns interest. Each student earning money for grades receives a certificate indicating the amount earned. Students who graduate from public schools have up to eight years to use their scholarship monies at college or technical school. The programme is based on the rationales that if wealthy families can create trust funds for the future of their children why cannot we as a society create trust funds for all kids? And since their future income will be highly correlated with their educational achievement, why not pay kids for doing well in school now, as an intermediate reinforcement? The scheme increased overall attainment levels and numbers of graduates, also increased number of graduates who went on to further education. Long term reductions in number of youths involved in criminal gangs.


Gang suppression and enforcement activities are those most likely to capture the imaginations of the public and media as well as that of police officers looking for action on the streets. Suppression activities communicate to the public that their police department is taking the local gang problem seriously.

Traditionally, suppression has been the favoured police approach aimed at arresting and locking up gang members, familiarising police officers with gang members and keeping them under surveillance and deterring fringe members from engaging in gang activities. Suppressive law enforcement strategies cannot alone effectively deal with the gang problems because of the process of development which different age groups within gangs undergo.

Generally suppression involves the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of gang members. It is often the primary strategy in many areas and is also frequently viewed as the least effective. Gang members have an intense dislike for police officers who use unnecessary “strong-arm” tactics in making arrests or questioning them. Gang members as a result feel nothing but anger and vengefulness when a police officer behaves unprofessionally and will seize any subsequent opportunity to get even.

As with intervention programs the success hinges on developing a plan based on a problem analysis to understand the gang problem within a geographical area. For complex problems such as gang violence, a deep understanding of the nature of the problem is crucial in framing appropriate responses.

Criminally active gang members, who have ongoing disputes with rival gangs are often central to the bulk of the problem therefore identifying the right members to focus on is also crucial. However, this is also problematic due to the spontaneous nature of “gang violence”.

  • Aggressive bail and curfew enforcement can reduce the presence of gangs during periods of operation

  • Fringe gang members who are targeted by police may become formally identified as gang members and, as a result, engage in crime as a consequence of the labelling
  • Sweeps of gang areas to arrest / observe gang members can result in increased resident alienation from the police
  • Removal of key gang leaders can create a leadership vacuum and unpredictable increasingly violent responses from would-be leaders trying to fill the top spots
  • Police crackdowns are unlikely to curtail rising youth violence and gang activity
  • Often effective initially and have a short residual deterrent effect and then followed by an eventual return to pre-intervention levels of crime
  • Efforts to deter and disrupt can increase the internal cohesiveness of the group
  • Little effect on reducing, managing or suppressing gangs
  • Little effect on number of crimes reported to the police
  • Does not affect gang membership or the conditions that create gangs


Lowell’s “Safety First” (Boston Operation Ceasefire tailored to a smaller city)

The new task for the group was to focus its combined powers tightly on the small number of gangs and gang members who generated the bulk of Lowell’s serious violence problem. Key members of the working group included the LPD, Middlesex County prosecutors, federal prosecutors, ATF agents, probation officers, parole officers, and Department of Youth Services (DYS, or juvenile corrections in Massachusetts) caseworkers as well as city-employed street-workers (social service providers that worked on the street instead of in an office), YMCA/YWCA and Big Brother/Big Sisters programs, and selected neighbourhood-based groups when the working group was addressing gang violence concentrated in their community. The working group engaged the “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategy that involved deterring violent behaviour by chronic gang offenders by reaching out directly to gangs, saying explicitly that violence would no longer be tolerated, and backing that message by “pulling every lever” legally available when violence occurred.

Lowell gangs were not subjected to increased law enforcement attention arbitrarily nor did the working group develop a “hit list” of gangs. Rather, enforcement actions by the working group were triggered by outbreaks of gang violence. As was the case in Boston, Lowell gangs selected themselves for focussed law enforcement attention by engaging in violence. When gang violence occurred, working group members sent a direct message to violent gang members that they were “under the microscope” because of their violent behaviour. Police officers, probation officers, and DYS caseworkers immediately flooded the targeted gang’s turf and communicated to gang members that their presence was due to the violence. Street workers walked the streets and explained that they wanted the violence to stop and supported the efforts of their law enforcement counterparts to cease the violence. Street workers also made offers of services and opportunities to gang members. As operations focused on particular gangs unfolded, members of the working group assessed the enforcement levers available to cease violent gang activity.

Enforcement responses were tailored to particular gangs and often included a wide range of actions such as probation checks, changes in community supervision conditions, serving outstanding arrest warrants, special prosecutorial attention to crimes committed by violent gang members, increased disorder enforcement, and the disruption of street-level drug markets. Building on the Boston experience, the basic premise of Lowell’s application of pulling levers was to take advantage of the chronic offending behaviours of gang members. It was important to recognize that gang members were vulnerable to a variety of criminal justice sanctions and that targeted enforcement actions could be used to good effect in controlling their violent behaviour. The enforcement actions were only as harsh as necessary to stop a particular gang from engaging in violence. For many gang members, heightened levels of police, probation, and DYS enforcement were sufficient to end the violence. For certain hardcore gang members, it was necessary to involve the enhanced enforcement capabilities of the federal authorities to stop the violence.

Although enforcement actions were carried out, the members of the working group continued communications with violent gang members. A direct and explicit message was delivered to violent gangs that violent behaviour would no longer be tolerated and that the interagency group would use whatever means were legally available to stop the violence. This message was communicated to other gangs not engaged in violence so they would understand what was happening to the violent gang and why it was happening. In addition to talking to gang members on the street, the deterrence message was delivered by handing out fliers explaining the enforcement actions and through forums with gang members. Forums were usually held in a public facility such as a courthouse or community recreational centre. Gang members under criminal justice system supervision were required to attend the forum by their probation or parole officers; gang-involved juveniles under DYS community supervision were required to attend by their caseworkers. Representatives of the different law enforcement agencies explained their actions to the gang members in attendance. Street workers and community members voiced their support of the law enforcement actions, asked the youth to stop the violence, and reiterated their offers of services and opportunities.

The law enforcement members of the larger group also met separately to focus enforcement efforts on “impact players,” or individuals who were particularly dangerous and served as “carriers” of criminal ideas across social networks and whose presence in particular groups facilitated violent action. The criminal justice practitioners felt strongly that within violent gangs, there were a very small number of particularly dangerous youth that did not want social intervention and that needed to be removed from the street to protect themselves and other youth from their violent behaviour. This subgroup of the larger task force believed that identifying and incarcerating these impact players would produce greater crime prevention benefits by focusing scarce law enforcement resources on highly active gang members who spread ideas or facilitated violent action. The identification process was largely based on subjective street intelligence gathered by law enforcement officials interacting closely with gang members.

Civil Gang Injunctions (modified dispersals)

Has resulted in improved perceptions of crime and fear of crime and reductions in violent assaults. Anecdotally, police and public officials claim the tactic is very effective in eliminating gang activity. Yet, relatively little systematic research on the effectiveness of injunctions has been completed. Injunctions addressed “local gang problems with customized provisions based on specific local circumstances” to gather evidence that members of a street gang represent a public nuisance in their neighbourhood. Evidence used to support an injunction includes the criminal history of gang members, written declarations by officers familiar with the neighbourhood, and sometimes, declarations from community members that describe the effects of specific nuisance activities on neighbourhood residents. The prosecutor uses the declarations and other materials to craft the injunction, working with officers to select the gang members to be named, the geographic area to be covered, and the specific behaviours that will be prohibited.

The number of gang members, the size of the area, and the type of prohibited activities varies considerably. The number of gang members can range from a handful to the hundreds, and the initial string of names often is followed by “and any other members”. The targeted area can be a housing complex, several square blocks, or an entire city, but most often CGIs are spatially based, neighbourhood-level interventions intended to disrupt the gang’s routine activities. Prohibited behaviours include illegal activities such as trespass, vandalism, drug selling, and public urination, as well as otherwise legal activities, such as wearing gang colours, displaying hand signs, and carrying a pager or signalling passing cars, behaviours associated with drug selling. Deterrence theory predicts that sure, swift, and severe sanctions will deter criminal behaviour. Although the penalties for injunction violations are not severe, the notifications of hearings and injunction papers might make targeted gang members believe that they are being closely watched and more likely to be apprehended and prosecuted for violations.

Anecdotal evidence suggests CGI in some places have encouraged gang members to pursue educational / employment opportunities whilst social psychological theory suggests that group identity causes individuals to feel less responsible for their behaviour, and influences them to conform to situation-specific group norms. In gangs, situation-specific norms promote violent and antisocial behaviour. A gang injunction holds individuals personally accountable for their actions which could weaken gang identity and decrease levels of participation in gang-related behaviour, especially among non-core members. In this process of holding individuals responsible for their gang activities, identification with the gang might decline, as could the overall gang cohesiveness. Alternatively, if the injunction sends the message that law enforcement is targeting the group rather than individuals, fringe members might react with increased loyalty to fend off the perceived group level threat and gang cohesiveness might increase. Immediate outcomes impact on level of intimidation and the level of fear experienced by residents whilst long term impacts can result in improved neighbourhood social cohesion, informal social control and willingness to call/trust police.

Facilitating between police and gangs (click here)

Since police officers are often charged with cracking down on youth offenders and gangs, relations between many police officers and youths are characterised by mutual hostility, mistrust, misunderstandings and stereotypes. Aggressive and violent tactics used in conflict do not lead to conflict resolution. Instead they produce negative changes in the parties and the communities to which they belong. When tensions escalate between such groups, as police and youth gangs, three dynamics occur that reinforce and intensify the conflict and hostilities: both sides develop enemy images, stereotypes, and misperceptions of one another; communication breaks down; and, strategies for dealing with each other become more confrontational, coercive, and violent. Gangs may mark police officers as targets of violence to gain status and legitimacy with their peers; police departments may respond with "military-like" tactics to control gangs and their illegal activities.

Community policing models and conflict resolution processes offer alternatives for preventing or reducing youth violence and gangs, and police youth antagonisms before they escalate. Community policing is a collaborative effort between police and residents to identify and help solve community problems. It emphasises partnering and problem solving as methods for dealing with violence. In addition, police assigned to work in schools as "resource officers" have an important impact on relations between police and youths.

What are the biggest problems that you have with the police/youths?

• What do you think they think about you? Is this true or not?
• What do you want the police/youths to know about you and your group that you think they do not know?
• What would you like the relationship to be like with the police/youths?
• What does it mean for someone to show respect to you? How do you show respect to others?
• What questions do you have about the law?/What is your basic approach to dealing with youths who are allegedly engaged in illegal activities or gangs?
• Why would you be willing to participate in a dialogue with the police/youths?

Goals of facilitating between police and youths (gangs)

(1) create a better understanding between youths and police officers
(2) reduce tensions and violence in the community
(3) improve relationships
(4) identify common ground
(5) construct joint action projects.

The issues

(1) behaviour and communication during police youth encounters
(2) perceptions of each other
(3) police policies procedures and laws (e.g., stop and search procedures)
(4) individual and community safety on the streets
(5) ways to show respect and fairness

The ground rules included

(1) no discussion of participation in illegal activities or specific police-youth incidents
(2) no use of individual participants' names outside the dialogue
(3) listen without interruption
(4) speak from personal experience (not representing any organisation)
(5) use respectful language
(6) no speeches.

The primary purpose is to establish an environment in which the participants can feel safe to share their experiences and perspectives and fully engage in the dialogue process without worrying about the dialogue escalating out of control. Creating a safe environment is key to encouraging parties to engage.

Issues as Defined by Police and Youths

• How youth and police should act during initial encounters
• How police should deal with youth in gangs
• How youth can cope with violent situations and develop alternatives to violence
• How police can ensure safety in their encounters with youth
• Police policies (e.g., probable cause, search procedures, picture taking)
• Youth gangs, crime and violence
• How laws protect and how laws oppress
• Perceptions of each other
• How to make youth and police feel like they are being respected and treated fairly
• The ideal relationship between police and youth

Police officers’ suggestions to youths

• Cooperate, don't talk back.
• Speak English / Avoid Slang (to avoid suspicion).
• Do as the police request or order.
• Don't threaten the police officer's security in any way (e.g., don't move quickly).
• Don't assume the worst about the police.

Youths' suggestions to police

• Explain what you are doing and why.
• Don't assume gang membership because of clothing style.
• Don't violate privacy by taking pictures without permission.
• Don't violate personal property.
• Don't speak abusively or make threats


Can a civil gang injunction change a community? (Mason et al 2004)
Community-based gang prevention and intervention: An evaluation of the neutral zone (Thurman et al 1996)
Delinquent youth groups and offending behaviour (Home Office 2004)
Dying to belong (Centre for Social Justice)
Facilitating between gangs and police (Carstarpehen and Shipiro 1997)
Five Boroughs Alliance (UCL Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science 2007)
Gang suppression through saturation patrol, aggressive curfew and truancy enforcement (Fritsch et al 1999)
Gang talk and gang talkers: A critique (Hallsworth & Young 2008)
Gangs and social change (Martin Sanchez-Jankowski 2003)
Guide to addressing community gang problems: A Practical Guide (click here)
Issues in the production and dissemination of gang statistics (Charles M. Katz 2003)
Police responses to gangs - a multi-site study (Katz et al 2003)
Preventing adolescent gang involvement (Finn-Aage Esbensen 2000)
Street gangs and preventive interventions (Thompson et al 1988)
The social outcomes of street gang involvement (Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh 2000)
The validity of police gang intelligence lists (Katz et al 2000)
Understanding and preventing gang violence (Braga et al 2006)
Youth gang deinitional issues, when is a gang a gang and why does it matter? (Esbensen et al 2001)
Youth gangs and public policy (C. Ronald Huff)

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