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A Rise of Gang Violence

The Problem

Law enforcement officials across the country have noted that about 80% of all crime is associated with criminal gangs. Gang refers to a group of people who join together with the aim of engaging in criminal activity. All gangs use intimidation, force and fear to control neighborhoods and communities (Thomas, 2009). “Typical gang-related crimes include alien smuggling, armed robbery, assault, auto theft, drug trafficking, extortion, fraud, home invasions, identity theft, murder, and weapons trafficking” (NGIC, 2009, p. 1). In the United States, gangs have been a common phenomenon since the American Revolution though their nature and characteristics have evolved over time. Gangs have been generally associated drug dealing and between 1980 and 1997, the number of gangs in the United States increased by almost fifteen times due to competition in drug markets. Compared to gangs of those days, today’s gangs are well armed and more violent. In many urban areas, gang violence has even spilled into school settings (Barak, 94). Based on reports from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, it has been estimated that there are at least 1 million gang members in the United States as of September 2008 (NGIC, 2009). This can potentially lead to increase in violent incidents such as assaults, shootings, and homicides. Adding to the gravity of the situation is the fact that more and more teenagers are enrolling in gang and indulging in violent activities. “There are about 2000 different youth gangs around the country and 200,000 teens and young adults are members. Most members are between the ages of 12 and 24 with an average of 17 to 18 years” (Kaplan et al, 2007, p. 42).

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Gangs were initially local problems involving the poorer sections of society within a city (Thomas, 2009). But more recently, gangs have evolved to become more international in nature and including people from all races, genders, and socioeconomic groups. Children from poor and abusive families join youth gangs for protection. Adolescent and older gangs are products of various factors such as poverty, racism and competitive urban life (Barak, 2003). Gangs focus on values such as “competition, loyalty and rigid status hierarchy” (Englander, 2007). They do not encourage emotional intimacy but rather shared activities. There are some gangs that specialize in one particular crime such as drug distribution (Englander, 147). There are three basic types of gangs: “street gangs, prison gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs” (NGIC, 2009). Street gangs are a huge threat because they are spread over a large area and are currently expanding from urban areas to suburban and rural areas (NGIC, 2009). Prison gangs are highly structured and criminal in nature and have links with street gangs. Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs are very powerful and can use high levels of violence. The NDTS (National Drug Threat Survey) 2008 observes that “58% of law enforcement agencies in the US attest to the involvement of gangs in drug distribution compared with 45% in 2004” (NGIC, 2009, p. 1). The increase is explained by the migration of gangs from urban to suburban and rural areas and expansion of gang networks. Gang related violence is currently posing a serious threat to society and needs to be checked as early as possible.

Solutions and Drawbacks

An obvious solution to gang violence is to arrest the gangs and put gang members in prison. But this cannot reduce the problem of gang violence as gangs exist even amidst the prison walls and released gang members often return to link up with local gangs. To combat the threat of gang violence, many jurisdictions have sought restraining orders against gangs. For example, “the LAPD has 29 active injunctions in the city involving 38 gangs” (Stevens, 2008, p. 442). Gang injunctions are interventions aimed at stopping the growth of a gang before it reaches the level of committing serious crimes. According to an analysis, it has been shown that injunctions are very effective can decrease violent crime by 5-10% within one year (Stevens, 2008). The most common way to prevent youth violence has been to punish them. However, this has proved to be a very short term costly approach that may actually exacerbate the problem. “Mass arrests and prison sentences often served with other gang members may actually strengthen gang ties and further marginalize angry young men” (Stevens, 2008, p. 446). Violent crime may also be reduced by attacking the drug trade directly and putting an end to it either by cutting off the supply or by reducing the demand (Stevens, 2008). By putting more officers on patrol in high crime neighborhoods and carry out raids on drug markets, the supply may be cut off. Operation Closed Market was one such policing plan that has been used in Chicago since 1998. By 2004, the program was able to create an overall decrease in gang violence. Drug awareness programs for the public, treatment and rehabilitation programs for the drug addicts and drug offenders can help reduce demand for drugs (Stevens, 2008).

Gang formation is a multidimensional problem and needs a multidimensional solution. The approach must involve various sectors of the community such as educational sector, employment sector, the law enforcement and the judiciary. The long term strategy to curb gang violence will be to stop youngsters from joining the gangs and perpetrating the violence. Accordingly, “the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has implemented a very effective school-based gang prevention program called Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.)” (Bilchik, 1998, p. 1). “The Comprehensive Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program is made up of 12 program components” and it provides a collaborative platform on which people from diverse sectors can work together (Bilchik, 1998, p. 1). They include the police, law enforcement officials, corrections officers, school officials and other community agencies. Based on this program, the Gang Violence Reduction Program has been implemented in Chicago and this has shown positive results by reducing gang crimes and hastening the departure of youth from the gang. The success of the program is mainly due to the program’s multifaceted approach that involves “community mobilization, suppression, and social intervention” rather than the conventional suppression-oriented approach (Bilchik, 1998, p. 1).

Conclusion

Gang violence is a constantly evolving threat that needs to be countered and stopped urgently. The increasing network of gangs around the world and increasing membership in the United States make it a problem of top priority for the law enforcement officials and also for the community in general. It must be understood that gangs and gang behavior are the result of various factors and hence, gang violence cannot be suppressed by the police alone. To stop gang violence, suppression tactics need to be strengthened in three ways: through laws that increase criminal sanctions for gang crime and gang activities; by adopting multiagency and multijurisdictional strategies that facilitate a collective approach in countering gang violence and by designing and organizing a collaborative community based approach to gang problems. An effective program to curb gang violence will work towards preventing formation of gangs, providing social interventions for youth belonging to gangs, suppressing any acts of gang violence and having a suitable information base to depend on for support.

Bibliography

Barak, Gregg (2003). Violence and nonviolence: pathways to understanding. SAGE Publications, 2003

Bilchik, Shay (1998). Youth Gangs: An Overview – Solutions. OJJDP – Juvenile Justice Bulletin, 1998. Web.

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Englander, Kandel Elizabeth (2007). Understanding violence. Routledge Publishers, 2007

Kaplan, I Harold; Sadock, J. Benjamin; and Sadock, A. Virginia. Kaplan & Sadock’s synopsis of psychiatry: behavioral sciences/clinical psychiatry. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007

NGIC (National Gang Intelligence Center) (2009). National Gang Threat Assessment 2009. Web.

Stevens, J. Dennis (2008). An Introduction to American Policing. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2008

Thomas, Andrew (2009). Gang Violence. Web.

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