Since there is no single and generally accepted concept of “gang,” state and local jurisdictions refer to their definitions. Thus, the most commonly used synonym for “street gang” is “youth gang” and “street gang.” The latter definition most clearly refers to an element of criminal activity that is present in gang legislation. However, the term “street gang” is most relevant because it reflects a common feature of gangs: as a rule, gangs are present on the street. Moreover, this definition can also be attributed to street crimes that cause concern for politicians and civilians.
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Currently, the problem of the spread of street gangs occupies one of the leading places among criminal issues. The Federal Bureau of Investigation considers the fight against gangs as one of the priority situations since there are tens of thousands of street-organized criminals on the state’s territory. Most of them are well organized and complex in structure, and each gang uses violent actions to control areas (McLean et al., 2018). Moreover, street gangs use violence to increase illicit enrichment, including robbery, the sale of drugs, weapons, and human trafficking and prostitution. Thus, it can be said that street gangs are a severe problem that needs to be addressed.
Despite the efforts of the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, street gangs continue to terrorize residents. Thus, the most influential bands in New York are The Mexican Boys, whose members are constantly being arrested. Gangs such as the Bloods and Crips are also significant and account for most street gangs’ crimes. A distinctive sign of gang members is wearing bandanas (and clothing in general) of blue, blue, and gray, sometimes – wearing canes.
Latin Kings also instill fear in the entire civilian population. The Latin Kings are considered one of the most significant Latin American gangs in the world. As a rule, in the United States, young people from low-income families who came from Puerto Rico and Mexico became “kings.” The group has its own “Constitution” and a flag, which depicts the flags of these two states and the symbols of the gang.
Since the number of gangs varies greatly and there are no reliable sources about the affiliation of certain criminals to a specific gang, it is difficult; statistics in this area are not accurate. According to law enforcement figures, criminal gangs on the streets of New York are responsible for the deaths of about half of those shot in the city and about a third of the incidents involving firearms. In 2012, more than 2,300 murders by criminal gangs were committed in the United States of America (Law Enforcment, 2021). This is the highest rate since 2007 and reversed the negative trend of the previous two years.
Currently, the crimes that are assigned to gang members are also on the rise. Thus, in 2021, as of July 18, approximately 251 incidents out of 840, that is, about 30% accounted for by street gangs (Statistics, n.d.). In 2020, there were 243 cases out of 689, which is 3% less than in 2021 (Statistics, n.d.). The police explain the increase there that the Wild West banditry in the 48th arrondissement, located in the center of the Bronx, is not afraid of the police and continues to trade in firearms. According to the Police Department, 11 out of 32 shooting incidents are investigated as the motive for gangs, up from 10 out of 21 last year (Statistics, n.d.). Thus, despite the active measures taken by the government and the police, the incidence of gang crime is on the rise.
Numerous gangs are spread throughout the country and pose a danger to civilians. According to the latest law enforcement estimate, there are approximately 30,000 gangs in the United States, with some 850,000 members (Law Enforcement, 2021). Compared with the average indicators of the past years, the number of street gangs increased by 8% and their members by 11% (Statistics). In 2010, the annual number of crimes in New York was 7,916 cases. However, over time, crimes have decreased and in 2015 amounted to 6176 cases per year. In 2020, this number amounted to 5686 criminal cases, which suggests a downward trend. Although, it is necessary to consider that the statistics given concerning street gangs are not always accurate since sometimes it is impossible to attribute the gang’s involvement in any crime.
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Relevance of Theories
Gangs have been a part of popular culture since ancient times, and it was considered an honor for many to be a gang member. Any actions and crimes associated with gangs are against the law, but people still join them, regardless of various reasons. One of the main reasons people become members of a street gang is to be protected. They also join gangs for financial gain from poverty and unemployment. Finally, individual gang members engage in criminal activities due to their sense of family and their caste.
People often join gangs to get protection from other people. People struggle to live every day because of the high crime rate and low income, mainly in the ghetto where most gangs take place. When a woman or a man decides to join a band, it will be the only way to live safely because they strive to protect each other. In a community, joining a gang with multiple gangs provides significant protection against violence and attacks from rival gangs.
Most of the gang members are young people who find themselves drawn into membership. Cravings are traits that appeal to the young’s fragile psyche, such as an increased reputation through being in a street gang and a new social status. A desire to be with friends or family who are already gang members can also be a point to becoming a part of a gang. When joining a gang, it is just as crucial for people to identify them with the promise of money, drugs, and gambling. Cultural pride and identification with one’s surroundings are also key reasons for joining a gang.
However, in hazardous areas, people join gangs in the hope of protection from others and fear the consequences if they do not enter the gang. Previously, young people were actively recruited by senior gang members. However, young people are less likely to report their recruitment in recent years, admitting that they joined a gang for family or friends. Moreover, joining a band is gradual, and when a person becomes a full member of a street gang, he is familiar with all the customs and traditions.
In the case of young people joining gangs that are proud of their membership and belonging to the criminal world, the classical criminological theory can explain people’s behavior. The classical theory says that crimes are committed of a person’s free will, and people are rational and make decisions freely and with an understanding of the consequences. Thus, we can conclude that some gang members commit criminal activities out of a sense of superiority and impunity.
In this case, according to classical theory, punishment is a necessary evil that restrains the debased form of human behavior and is intended not only to detain criminals but also to enlighten others. The theory also states that prevention of danger can be accomplished through prompt response and punishment that minimizes the potential benefits of the crime.
Sociological criminological theory can also help to understand the motivations of people when joining a street gang. This approach includes the idea of differential association, which states that offensive behavior can be learned in communication with criminals. In this case, the entry of a particular person into a street gang can be explained by his social environment. Gang members join the band and commit criminal acts since they do not consider adherence to certain social norms a significant construct of society. The more a person interacts with members of a street gang, the higher the chance that he will one day join it.
Another criminological theory that can explain people join street gangs is the biological theory. According to the theory, the main determinants of an individual’s behavior can determine genetic predisposition. Thus, the main determinants are passed from generation to generation, deciding the fate of a person. Therefore, the criminal behavior of people who join the ranks of gangs is facilitated by human DNA transmitted from relatives.
Criminal Justice “Solutions”
The police are currently taking active measures to combat the problem of street gangs. Law enforcement is taking a heightened approach to controlling street gangs. The police are watching, using aggressive patrolling techniques, and detaining many gang members. Law enforcement agencies also collect intelligence information and take measures to prevent the formation of public relations. The police have established comprehensive systems for collecting and storing data and improved coordination among law enforcement agencies.
Despite the lack of a unified system for dealing with street gangs, several police departments have provided strategies that focus on community and social intervention. To track down gang members, particular methods were developed to catch violators of the law, which included monitoring the territory and improving the skills of police officers involved in special operations. However, concerning the effectiveness of such strategies, it cannot be sure whether it is possible to stop street gangs in major cities by relying solely on suppression. In such cases, there is little evidence as to whether the suppression system has helped reduce banditry in cities where the problem is paramount.
Moreover, in some cities, where more integrated approaches have been taken, there is a tendency for gangs to decrease. However, it is still not clear whether the decrease is due to the strategies of policing departments or other structural changes in the environment of society that are not associated with innovations. Such structural changes could be creating new jobs or greater access to income from drug trafficking, which is one of the primary incomes of street gangs.
In the penal system, prosecutors tend to focus on serious criminals who are members of street gangs. The punishment is carried out through a vertical prosecution system in which one prosecutor follows the case from start to finish. As a result of such introductions, the number of persons convicted and deprived of their liberty increases. This strategy of approaching the punishment of gang members has become more specialized and community-oriented, with a deeper understanding of gang behavior and culture and the factors that influence their emergence.
Additionally, prosecutors are expanding vertical investigation by introducing hate and social intervention strategies that are especially effective for young offenders. While prosecutors view youth street gangs as a distinct movement, the judiciary has stressed the relevance of a challenging approach. The court does not exclude minors from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and family court. However, some courts use a practice where family and system organizations focus their efforts on achieving a better result.
Despite the well-coordinated work of prosecutors and judges, one cannot say about the high efficiency of the approach. The court does not apply effective measures for the rehabilitation of prisoners, which leads to subsequent relapses and new criminal acts. Moreover, the court does not take into account the distribution of prisoners in the colonies. Thus, this leads to prisoners of the same street gang forming a new band in detention conditions.
To contain and control criminal street gangs, jurisdictions use gang databases and view them as essential for preventing crime. However, there is a problem with maintaining databases, which is that the criteria for adding a person to the database are too vague and broad. Thus, people who were never gang members or were seen in other criminal activities were entered into the database. Therefore, street gang databases are a controversial issue that needs to be addressed. This controversy stems from the fact that street gang databases are created by police departments based on factors that may prove to be wrong.
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Prosecutors and prison officials also create databases, but these are also controversial. Such databases are vulnerable to error since deciding whether a particular person is a street gang member requires a discretionary decision from law enforcement and the judiciary. In addition, if a person or group of persons has been identified as members of a gang, the meaning and classification of the severity of the crime may differ.
Different major cities use different strategies to combat the criminal activities of street gangs. Thus, one of the measures taken by the Los Angeles authorities was to file an abatement lawsuit against the owner of the property, whose territory is considered one of the most criminal. Arrests and raids took place in this area regularly, so a lawsuit demanding to improve property became necessary to reduce crime. Los Angeles is taking steps, such as departments, to work together to capture members of street gangs (Crime Prevention, n.d.). Since drug trafficking is one of the main branches of the gang’s profit, the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation work in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
In major cities such as Michigan and Rhode Island, anti-violent gang crime task forces are being created, and federal and state government task forces. These targeted associations conduct investigations in which they find out the belonging of specific people to street gangs. Targeted groups are sponsored by the ATF and include departments such as the state and local police force, the National Guard, the U.S. Department of the Treasure, and the United States Secret Service.
However, social and economic improvements can help address the violence and organized crime of street gangs. It is necessary to influence such standards for all types of crime criminogenic factors such as unemployment, illegal migration, and poverty. It is important to allocate more wage jobs, which will lead to less street gang activity (Mallion & Wood, 2020). Since the primary income of organized street crime comes from drug and gun trafficking, a stable and regular income can help stabilize the situation. In the case of illegal migration, it is necessary to take preventive measures to prevent illegal migrants from staying in the country, strengthening border control and simplifying the procedure for obtaining legal rights to reside in the country.
Victimological crime prevention aimed at correcting potential victims’ behavior can be considered a distinct type of preventive activity. A particular preventive action is needed, focused on the most dangerous types of crime, such as organized crime. Social and economic measures may also require an increase in unemployment benefits for the vulnerable. Since most street gang members are on the verge of poverty, leading them to engage in criminal activities, increased benefits can reduce the risk of illegal trade in drugs and weapons.
Thus, the severity of the danger of street gangs is still at a high level. However, the measures taken by law enforcement agencies make it possible to reduce their current activities. Despite the downward trend, street gangs continue to be of concern to the authorities and residents. Therefore, to resolve this issue, stricter measures are needed on the part of the punishment and justice system and the introduction of social and economic innovations. These conditions cannot destroy the formation and proliferation of street bans, but they are capable of curbing the level of growth and improving the current situation.
Crime Prevention. (n.d.). Home of the Los Angeles Police Department. Web.
Law Enforcement. (2021). Bureau of Justice Statistics. Web.
Mallion, J., & Wood, J. (2020). Street gang intervention: Review and good lives extension. Social Sciences, 9(9), 160. Web.
McLean, R., Robinson, G., & Densley, J. (2018). The rise of drug dealing in the life of the north American street gang. Societies, 8(3), 90. Web.
Statistics. (n.d.). New York City Police Department. Web.