Gang Violence Reduction:
Trends and Practices
Memorandum to LAPD and Mayor Hahn


Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.

International Human Rights Law and Policy
email to:

September 17th, 2002

To:the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners
..........LAPD Interim Chief Martin Pomeroy
..........Mayor James K. Hahn


Gang Violence Reduction:
Trends and Practices

This 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 communities.

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:

(1) Mobilizing community leaders and residents to plan, strengthen, or create new opportunities or linkages to existing organizations for gang-involved and at-risk youth;
(2) Using outreach workers to engage gang-involved youth;
(3) Providing and facilitating access to academic, economic, and social opportunities;
(4) Conducting gang suppression activities and holding gang-involved youth accountable;
(5) Facilitating 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 policing.

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:

(1) Denial of gang problems, or fear of tackling gangs in a comprehensive, cultural fashion, precludes early intervention and worsens the problem considerably;
(2) Overreaction 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;
(3) Community 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 affect;
(4) Gang 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 measured responses;
(5) The 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, and others;
(6) Long-term, proactive investigations of entire gangs are more effective than short-term, reactive investigations of individual gang members;
(7) 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;
(8) Police 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;
(9) Programs 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.
(10) In 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 smaller cities.

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, 2002.

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:

Number of teachers trained in gang identification:
Number of community members who completed gang awareness training:
Number of adult role models from the community participating:
Number 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 program.

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 fit all."

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 McDonnell added.

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.

Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur. Robin 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.

For additional information or a complete list of references, contact:

Dr. Arthur Jones