Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gangs: Are we being over-run by gangs?

The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has just issued a three page report on the 2011 survey on gang activity in the U.S.

There were 756,000 gang members in the U.S. in 29,400 gangs. As a teenager would say, "OMG!" Or you might say, "Reaaaally?"

Naturally one wants to know about definitions. A "gang" is as small as three or more "gang members" in most states. A kid is a "gang member" if he meets at least two criteria of some number. Two typical criteria are:

"Resides in or frequents a particular criminal gang’s area, adopts its style of dress, use of hand signs, or tattoos, and associates with known gang members."
"Has been arrested more than once in the company of individuals who are identified as criminal street gang members by law enforcement, for offenses that are consistent with usual criminal street gang activity."
And "usual criminal street gang activity" is, for purposes of federal law, almost any Controlled Substances Act offense, any crime of violence, or being part of conspiracy to do either.

In filling out the questionnaire, what are the incentives, in reporting the number of gangs and gang members in your jurisdiction, for being accurate, under-counting or exaggerating the number of gangs and gang members? Who is filling out the questionnaire? The local police gang specialist or head of a gang unit would have the responsibility to respond. Is this a time of dramatic budget cutting in local government in the U.S.? Yes, indeed. Units of agencies that do not address big, serious problems are targets to be cut. Agencies that are facing big and growing problems can count on keeping their funding, equipment, vehicles, travel to conferences for training, and jobs. Very simply, there may be a pressure to exaggerate. Now, if you say, how should I interpret the question? If I follow the definitions, I am answering the questions properly. Certain marching bands that engage in "hazing," for example, could be counted as gangs by someone stretching to boost numbers. Should any fraternity that hazes be included? Should we include the fans of a team that riot during March madness or during other periods?

Think about all the informal groups that engage in pranks, vandalism, drug dealing, or in other conduct. Do they meet the definition of gang? Perhaps now we are not surprised that the number is so huge.

Do these numbers tell us anything?

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: