Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.
International Human Rights Law and Policy
email to: Arthur@lacp.org
Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners
..........LAPD Interim Chief Martin
..........Mayor James K. Hahn
Gang Violence Reduction:
Trends and Practices
is a synopsis or preview of research and development work our firm
has recently undertaken, submitted in the hopes that it may contribute
some guidance in designing comprehensive programs to stem the rising
tide of gang-related violence now taking place in several Los Angeles
First, we are keenly aware of the daunting complexities surrounding
the continuing and intractable social and public safety problems
presented by gangs, their causative roots, and the driving forces
behind their strengths. The solutions developed by police departments
throughout the United States, whether in metropolises, smaller cities,
suburbs or rural areas, represent a huge and growing body of knowledge.
Successful programs, in any location, depend on a delicate harmony
of socio-economic factors and interests.
Inasmuch as the Board of Police Commissioners has expressed an interest
in comparative examples of (relatively) successful gang violence
reduction programs in other jurisdictions, we have condensed or
summarized a few of the more promising or inspiring projects.
Background and Development
Although anti-gang police efforts have been with us since the mid-19th
Century, every brief summary must start at a recent point in history
that bears relevance to the current situation. We therefore begin
with a benchmark study conducted from 1992 through 1998 in Dallas,
Texas, referred to as the Fritsch Study, which compared state-of-the-art
gang suppression techniques and relative success rates in a number
of U.S. cities.
That study established the importance of combining suppression techniques
with genuine community concern and participation in police-neighborhood
partnerships. It reviewed several inspiring examples or models,
including two California cities, Westminster and Oxnard.
In 1995, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
(OJJDP) of the U.S. Department of Justice awarded grants to five
communities to implement and test a model program to reduce gang
crime and violence. Known as the Spergel Model, it includes
five strategies for dealing with gang-involved youth and their communities.
These strategies are:
community leaders and residents to plan, strengthen, or create
new opportunities or linkages to existing organizations for
gang-involved and at-risk youth;
outreach workers to engage gang-involved youth;
and facilitating access to academic, economic, and social opportunities;
gang suppression activities and holding gang-involved youth
organizational change and development to help community agencies
better address gang problems through a team "problem-solving"
approach that is consistent with the philosophy of community
The five cities covered by the grants were Mesa, Arizona, Tucson,
Arizona, Riverside, California, Bloomington and Normal, Illinois,
and San Antonio, Texas. The results of their operations were evaluated
by the University of Chicago.
All five cities featured street-based outreach workers assisting
other social service agency employees, probation officers, job developers
and vocational rehab counselors, youth commission or youth authority
workers, city police assigned to community policing and tactical
units, and other services, both public and private.
The Spergel models are still used as benchmark examples and
are regularly cited in subsequent evaluations and studies.
Researchers from the University of Chicago conducted an implementation
and impact evaluation of those and other programs through 1999.
They established comparison or control groups for the youth involved
in their programs, and then specialized their focus on key groupings
of crimes and/or causative factors. They measured changes in total
arrests, serious violent crime arrests, total violent crime arrests,
property crime arrests, drug crime and other arrests. They measured
the impact of special police activities and suppression efforts
on specific types of crimes. They also combined those results with
the outreach team outcome data to construct a total success rate.
The Chicago Gang Violence Reduction Project appeared to be particularly
successful with the more serious offenders, using a combined approach
of comprehensive social intervention, suppression, and opportunities
provision in the community.
The success of the Gang Violence Reduction Project demonstrated
the effectiveness of multiagency coordination and integration among
youth services (including street outreach), police, probation, parole,
grassroots organizations, and corrections in controlling and redirecting
serious and violent gang members.
The Project, and its progeny of replicated programs elsewhere, also
produced a new set of principles for effective youth gang programs
and strategies. Among them are:
of gang problems, or fear of tackling gangs in a comprehensive,
cultural fashion, precludes early intervention and worsens the
in the form of excessive police force and publicizing of gangs
may have unintended consequences in serving to enhance a gang's
cohesion, facilitate its expansion, and lead to more crime;
responses to gangs must begin with a thorough assessment of
the specific characteristics of the gangs themselves, crimes
they commit, other problems they represent, and localities they
problems vary widely from one community to another. There is
no substitute for local assistance from experts, and the employment
of research and development professionals, in assessing the
type and extent of gang problems and devising appropriate and
most effective suppression tactics seem to be targeting specific
crime areas or "hotspots" with high-impact community policing,
which includes intensified proactive neighborhood presence,
coupled with street sweeps, intensified surveillance, cooperation
with probation and parole officers, illegal weapons experts,
proactive investigations of entire gangs are more effective
than short-term, reactive investigations of individual gang
Fighting gang-related crime can be compared to fighting fire:
one of the necessary components (e.g., fuel, oxygen, and combustion
temperature) must be removed from the equation;
forces need gang information systems that combine computerized,
FASTRAC approaches with the full use of human intelligence resources
developed through close partnerships in the community over an
extended period of time;
are needed to break the cycle of gang members moving from communities
to detention to corrections and prisons and back into communities.
The fight against recidivism has been shown to be easier when
dealing with younger gang members (up to age 19) and members
of more recently-formed gangs. The tools for prevention of recidivism
include a number of programs best implemented during incarceration
or detention. They include: --Education (incl. GED equivalencies);
vocational training; drug and alcohol counseling and rehab;
conflict resolution counseling; legitimate job opportunities.
The reader is referred to the Community Transition Unit (CTU)
currently in operation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's
Department at Twin Towers Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles,
a leading, highly evolved example of recidivism prevention featuring
some 70 separate, tailor-made programs for inmates.
preventing children and adolescents from joining gangs in the
first instance, anti-gang curriculum in schools, coupled with
youth activities and mentoring programs, seem to hold the most
promise of effectiveness.
There is evidence suggesting that the foregoing aggregate of interrelated
programs has begun reducing the toll of gang violence in the United
States. A 2000 study revealed that the continued, concentrated use
of suppression tactics, intelligence gathering and expanded outreach
programs resulted in over 50 % of respondent cities reporting no
increase in gang activities and crimes; 28 % reported that conditions
had actually improved. Even in the smaller percentage of cities
that reported a worsening of conditions between 1999 and 2000, most
of the deterioration reported involved lesser crimes, e.g., graffiti
tagging, spontaneous fistfights, or minor drug dealing.
Caveat: Gauging Success in Each City Separately
In the past three years, it has proven more difficult to obtain
significant reductions in gang crime in larger U.S. cities with
gang presence that began before the 1980s. Also, the largest U.S.
cities feature an older average age of members, who are more likely
to commit more serious crimes than their younger counterparts in
Also, the number of homicides is highest among those gangs formed
before 1981, as well as the highest incidence of weapons violations.
By contrast, late-onset gangs are more likely to be prevalently
Caucasian or mixed ethnicity, with smaller units and lower rates
of violent crimes.
Yet, continued stubborn high violent crime rates in older gangs
are not necessarily inevitable or incurable. In Oxnard, California,
the largest gang, La Colonia, dates from pre-World War II
years, and many of its current members are the sons and grandsons
of former members. Also, the number of identified gang members has
risen over the past several years.
During the years 1996-2001, 56 % of Oxnard homicides were gang-related
(27 of a total of 48). For the first fiscal year of a Justice Department
Gang Suppression Grant, however, eight homicides took place in Oxnard,
but only two (25 %) of them were gang-related. Thus, the number
of homicides is sinking, although the number of serious gang assaults
rose slightly (from 94 to 102) during the same period.
However, the Gang Violence Suppression (GVS) program has succeeded
in reducing the number of crimes reported as gang-related by over
22 % during the 18-month period from Jan. 2001 through June 30,
The newly-redesigned Oxnard program achieves its results by maintaining
a delicate balance between suppression efforts and community policing/prevention
outreach. This program also features education opportunities for
the community leaders and activists or volunteers it actively recruits.
Between January 2001 and the present, it has trained its participant
partners as follows:
of teachers trained in gang identification:
of community members who completed gang awareness training:
of adult role models from the community participating:
of youth provided individual counseling:
These numbers do not include the students given individual counseling,
parenting, and other guidance under the S.T.O.P. juvenile truancy
When reading the foregoing numbers of trained participants, it should
be remembered that the City of Oxnard is comparable in size of population
to an average LAPD Division, i.e., about 200,000 residents.
Also, the balance between suppression techniques and community policing/outreach
action cannot be overemphasized. In Paris, France, the lack of coherence
between the community policing units using "soft" methods during
the day, and the more brutal methods used at night by the National
Police, have destroyed much of the credibility of the Paris police
forces, especially in minority communities.
School and after-school programs, constant outreach efforts, drug
and alcohol rehab programs, job and educational opportunities, and
mentoring relationships, taken together, can achieve substantial
crime reductions, even in the largest, oldest, most deeply-entrenched
gang areas. They all need persistence and permanence. The tragic
but typical course of action has been, in many of the largest cities,
that community activists produce a quantity of media events filled
with platitudes and slogans, that fade with time and leave the neighborhood
in despair once again.
Experience shows that all programs need structure and planning to
facilitate high levels of interaction between young people and society.
Those high levels often have more to do with the quality
of interaction with schools, churches, community groups, and social
services than they do with the quantity of contacts.
Just as all programs need structure and planning, they all need
constant evaluations. The time is past when police forces could
perform "show and tell" with parents or ex-gang member testimonies,
or surveys to show subjective perceptions of relative safety in
the neighborhoods. Similarly, the time is past when community activists
could sponsor an occasional town meeting or park barbecue-and-balloon
fest replete with music, speeches and plenty of charisma, and declare
it a success in fighting crime. Anecdotal opinions are not equal
to scientific and empirical data.
Or, as stated in one recent study, "Popularity does not necessarily
equate with effectiveness."
We now need to produce empirical evidence of our results. According
to LAPD Commander Jim McDonnell, Special Assistant to the Chief
for Community Policing, evaluation strategies must be specifically
tailor-made to each program in each community: "One size doesn't
To counteract emotional and anecdotal reactions in communities where
gang suppression activities must be carried out, every police force
needs reliable data. "Each policy implies a quantitative position
to defend: Our actions must be empirically defensible," Commander
The task of effecting constant and steady reductions in gang violence
and recidivism requires continuous mid-course corrections of method
and direction, or else a number of unintended consequences will
ensue, according to Commander McDonnell.
Experts are nearly unanimous in their conclusion that law enforcement
agencies must continually update staff training curriculums and
monitor the specific gang culture in their own jurisdictions. In
addressing gang problems, law enforcement agencies should keep in
mind that no single response will work universally.
What succeeds in one city may have little effect in another. Each
response must be based on an accurate assessment of the local problem,
updated intelligence, application of all community resources, and
a realistic appraisal of how to gauge success.
It is also essential that local efforts to prevent and combat gangs
include every available community agency in a comprehensive approach.
Without such an approach, efforts to address gang violence and other
gang-related crimes are quite likely to fail.
The foregoing notes were excerpted from our larger study now in
progress, and were submitted as an initial contribution to the current
dialogue on gang-related homicides and other violent crimes in Los
Angeles. Other and further excerpts and specialized reports will
become available as the project progresses.
A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.
--- Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman are international human
rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe.
They are consultants and authors on international policing, social
policy and human rights, and regular contributors to the forum here
at LA Community Policing.
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