A Preliminary Report
George W. Knox, Ph.D.
Thomas F. McCurrie, M.S.
John A. Laskey, M.S.
Edward D. Tromanhauser, Ph.D.
Mary Chambers, B.S.
Antionette M. Grady, B.S.
Robert A. Moon, B.S.
Gerald M. Ashe, B.S.
Edward Sullivan, B.S.
Millicent D. Lewis, B.S., M.S.
Emile J. Spearman, B.S.
Adaku Nwaogwugwu, B.S.
Franklin C. Ugoka, B.S.
In Spring 1996 a strict random sample of 1,000 police chiefs were sent a mail questionnaire. Some N = 283 responded from 48 states. The research reported here estimates that the total gang population in the United States today is approximately 1.5 million, far above FBI and other federal research estimates of the scope and extent of the gang problem in America. The gang problem has expanded considerably since 1992 is another major finding of this research. Half of the police departments (58.8%) first recognized the gang problem hitting their cities in the time frame of 1992 to present. Computer technology for tracking gang members as well as gang training for police officers lags behind the rising gang problem. Frustrated, about a fourth of American cities have now passed local ordinances, and about half report gang dress code restrictions in their local public schools. Gang members account for an average of 10.6 of all crime and 18.5 percent of all juvenile crime in American cities today. Asked to give elected federal leaders a "report card" grade for combatting gangs since 1992, these local law enforcement officials gave a grade of D-minus regarding such crime fighting success regarding the American gang problem. A wide range of other gang problems, issues, and policies are discussed in the report.
The research reported here is a replication and refinement of previous research by the National Gang Crime Research Center (NGCRC). One of the most productive areas of research involves using the municipal police department and the city or local municipality as the unit of analysis. When surveying a police department the data therefore reflects either the experience of the police department personnel or the problems of the city in which the department has jurisdiction.
The NGCRC has a long and productive history of criminal justice agency research such as that reported here. This research and service dates back to 1990. The research itself is probono, no one is paid for the work. The service comes in to play by the fact that the first persons to be educated about the results of the research are the respondents: the police agencies themselves. In the research/service model of knowledge development used by the NGCRC, providing free full reports of the research to criminal justice agency respondents, in a non-technical and easy to understand format, and in a timely manner so that the results are meaningful as feedback to local areas of the U.S.A, is a hallmark of the success of such projects over the years.
The research reported here involves a mail questionnaire research strategy. The survey questionnaire contains mostly forced-choice questions. The instrument was pre-tested on a small focus group of police officers, no items were found to be ambiguous or excessively complex in language level.
The sampling strategy involved a straight-forward strict random sampling of municipal police departments in the United States. This involved assigning numbers to every municipal police department in the U.S.A., and then selecting every tenth agency as the mailing sample. The universe is therefore every city, large or small, and does not focus simply on larger cities. Much of the federally funded research along the same lines has been limited to larger urban areas. Large urban areas have always had gang problems, the gang problem is not new to urban areas. Where we really need more national information for policy and analysis purposes is in smaller jurisdictions, small towns and rural areas particularly.
The advantage of a strict random sample is that the results are generalizable to American society as a whole, and not just to larger urban areas.
During the spring of 1996, some N = 283 municipal police departments responded to the mail questionnaire project. This is therefore approximately a 25 percent return rate, which is more than acceptable for a mail questionnaire project where no follow-up calls were made.
The responding agencies have been provided with a free copy of this journal and therefore are receiving this report as we promised in a timely fashion.
RESULTS OF THE 1996 LAW ENFORCEMENT SURVEY
In presenting the results of the 1996 Law Enforcement Gang Analysis Survey it is important to note that the questionnaire includes not just questions about gangs, but it also includes a host of other interesting policy questions. All of the questions involve law enforcement issues, or issues about which a law enforcement viewpoint is relevant. Thus, the way the results have been organized is to first present what might be considered "background" characteristics describing the sample. The analysis then proceeds to the "gang issues". Finally, "other policy issues" are analyzed.
BACKGROUND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SAMPLE
Only two states did not respond the survey: Hawaii and West Virginia, both of which are known from previous NGCRC research to not be immune to the American gang problem. We have no explanation for the lack of cooperation from agencies in Hawaii or West Virginia. We have, however, decided that education is an important duty in gang research of this sort, and therefore we have sent a copy of this same journal to every municipal police department in Hawaii and West Virginia, as well as to other officials in these two states. Whatever reason there was a "slow down" or a kind of "19 Paul" code response to the survey we may never know, and it is not appropriate to speculate about here.
The size of the populations of the city, town, or jurisdiction ranged from as small as 325 to as high as 1,500,000. However, as is also common to actual American law enforcement, our sample similarly reflects that about half of the respondents (52%) are agencies with a jurisdiction that contains a population of 10,000 or less. Thus, "small town" America is appropriately represented in this national sample.
The size of these municipal police departments similarly reflected the American diversity of population sizes. The number of full-time sworn personnel in the police departments in this sample ranged from as low as "1" sworn officer (the one cop town) to as high as 761 police officers. Again reflecting the fact that this sample contains many smaller towns and municipalities in the USA, about half of the responding agencies (52.7%) had 20 or less full-time sworn police officers.
In the present sample, there were a total of 13,616 sworn full-time police officers and a total of 1,097 sworn part-time officers employed by the departments surveyed.
The zip code of the responding agency was included in the survey data. This showed the same large range as might be expected in a strict random sample. The only two "missing spots" were the zip codes from Hawaii and West Virginia. The overwhelming majority of the agencies (95.2%) gave permission to use the zip code or geographic identifier of the responding agency in the analysis and reporting of results. So few were "hiding" their problems.
Almost all (97.1%) wanted a full copy of the preliminary report of the research that was promised to be available at no charge by the NGCRC.
FINDINGS ON GANG ISSUES
A focus on gang issues was the primary thrust of the study. These results provide a more complete picture of the scope and extent of the American gang problem than some previous studies. Hopefully, by building on previous findings and extending the analysis further to new areas of concern, these findings will help clarify what needs to be done in the future.
Two-Thirds Report a Gang Problem in their Jurisdiction
The first question on the survey asked "Are youth gangs a problem in your jurisdiction". Two thirds (68.9%, N = 193) of all jurisdictions surveyed now report a gang problem. What is important to also mention is that among the 31.1 percent of the agencies that indicated they do not have a youth gang problem in their jurisdiction, an analysis showed that these were not exactly "gang free" areas. In otherwords, the 31.1 percent are apparently not without gang members or gang crime. The analysis therefore suggests the need to assume that 68.9 percent is a conservative estimate of the extent of the gang problem in American municipalities today.
The "two-thirds" estimate is considered a conservative or underestimate of the true extent of the gang problem for several reasons. First, among those 31.1 percent who reported they did not have a gang problem, a fifth of these had a score of 10 on the denial scale; thus, "no gang problem" for them was probably the official position imposed by local government officials. Also, if we simply define "having a gang problem" as expanding to include any of the crime patterns (violence, drug sales, graffiti, etc) that youth gangs cause in the jurisdiction, or if there has been outside gang influence in the jurisdiction, or if a specific year was given for the appearance of gangs in the jurisdiction, or if ten or more gang members are reported as existing in the jurisdiction, or if there has been a "gang disturbance" in the local public schools in the last year --- if we define "gang problem" by these terms, the percentage jumps up to 86.9 percent of local law enforcement agencies "have a gang problem".
So we will use the conservative figure of 68.9 percent, but we know as well the figure is probably closer to 90 percent if we define it more objectively in terms of what defines a local gang problem.
Half Indicate Gangs are a Minor Problem
Among those who answered "yes" to the question "are youth gangs a problem in your jurisdiction", a follow-up question asked the responding agencies to rate the seriousness of the problem. Only 7.1 percent rated the gang problem as a "major problem". Some 37.8 percent rated it as a "moderate problem". About half (55.1%) rated the gang problem as a "minor problem".
Less Than One Out of Five Use a Statewide Computer Designed to Track Gang Members
The survey asked "does your agency use a statewide computer system that is specifically designed to track gang members". Only 17.3 percent of the respondents (N = 48) indicated they had this technology.
Gang Denial By Community Leaders
The survey asked the question "to what extent do community leaders in your jurisdiction deny the gang problem". The response mode scale include values between a low of zero (for NO DENIAL) to a high of ten (for HIGH DENIAL). The results, below, show only a fourth giving a rating of absolute zero.
Rating: N %
0 68 25.6
1 18 6.8
2 11 4.1
3 19 7.1
4 26 9.8
5 31 11.7
6 20 7.5
7 22 8.3
8 16 6.0
9 10 3.8
HIGH DENIAL 10 25 9.4
The interesting result in the above distribution is that 35 percent of the agency respondents gave a rating of 6 or higher about gang denial by community leaders. The mean, or average, rating was a value of 4.12 on a zero to ten point scale for this variable.
Four-Fifths of American Police Departments Have Seen Outside Gang Influence
The survey asked "have you seen gang influence from outside of your community or jurisdiction". Here some 81.3 percent (N = 222) of the agencies did in fact report such outside gang influence.
Crime Problems Caused by Youth Gangs
Twelve separate crime category variables were used to examine the national trend in local crime problems that can be attributed to youth gangs in the same jurisdiction. These results are provided in Table 1.
Local Crime Problems Caused by Gangs
Crime Problem Caused by Gangs?
By Crime Category
NO (N) YES (N) % Yes
Violence 121 162 57.2%
Drug Sales 135 148 52.3%
Graffiti 106 177 62.5%
Burglary 177 106 37.5%
Robbery 222 61 21.6%
Drive-by shootings 214 69 24.4%
Arson 267 16 5.7%
Prostitution 276 7 2.5%
Car Theft 199 84 29.7%
Extortion 264 19 6.7%
Retail Theft 217 66 23.3%
Criminal Damage to Property 119 164 58.0%
As seen in Table 1, in over half of all American municipalities surveyed, gangs are involved in the local crime patterns involving the following crime categories: violence, drug sales, graffiti, and criminal damage to property.
Percent of Total Crime Caused by Gang Activity
The survey asked "please estimate the percent of total crime in your jurisdiction that is caused by gang activity". The results showed a distribution ranging from a low of zero percent to a high of 90 percent. The overall national mean or average was that 10.6 percent of all local crime was caused by gang activity.
Percent of Juvenile Crime Caused by Gang Activity
The survey asked the separate question "please estimate the percent of total juvenile crime in your jurisdiction that is caused by gang activity". The results showed a distribution ranging from a low of zero percent to a high of 95 percent. The overall national mean or average was that 18.5 percent of all local juvenile crime was caused by gangs.
Percent of Crime Caused by Outside Gang Influence
The survey asked "please estimate what percent of the crime in your community/jurisdiction is caused by gangs or gang members from outside of your same area". The results showed a distribution ranging from a low of zero percent to a high of 99 percent. The overall national mean or average was that 8.4 percent of local crime could be attributed to outside gang influence.
Fourth-Fifths Report It is Hard to Get Gang Informants
The survey asked "in your opinion, is it hard to get gang members to be confidential informants". Four fifths of the responding police departments (N = 199, 80.2%) reported that it was in fact hard to get gang informants. We will comment on this issue in the summary and conclusion section.
Year Gangs Were First Recognized as a Local Problem
The survey asked "in what year did gangs first become recognized as a problem in your jurisdiction". An option was provided for those who did not or who could not provide a "year", they were allowed to indicate "Not yet recognized as a problem". About a third (34.3%) overall indicated that gangs were not yet recognized as a problem", that does not mean gangs are not a problem, it simply means they are not recognized as such a problem.
The data on when gang problems first became recognized in these jurisdictions is easy to summarize.
Year The Gang Problem First Recognized
On or before 1987: 12.6%
This shows that 53.8% of the police departments recognizing a gang problem for this item indicated that the gang problem was first recognized during the time frame of 1992 to present!
Pre-Service Training Lags Behind The Extent of the Problem
The scope and extent of the gang problem significantly surpasses the current training capability regarding manpower resources in law enforcement on the issue of dealing with gangs. While 68.9 percent of the responding municipal police departments reported a definite gang problem, only 58.5 percent reported that their police officers receive training in "gang awareness" or in handling gang problems.
In-service training comes closer to providing a better "fit" with the size of the gang problem. Some 74.4 percent of the respondents indicated their officers receive in-service training on gang awareness.
Level of Cooperation With Federal Agencies in Gang Cases
The survey asked the responding local law enforcement agencies to rate the level of cooperation they get with gang cases from federal agencies (FBI, BATF, DEA, and INS). The results were as follows:
Low Medium High
FBI 52.1% 26.6% 21.4%
BATF 58.0% 22.9% 19.1%
DEA 58.1% 26.7% 15.2%
INS 69.2% 18.9% 11.9%
Total Gang Member Population
The survey asked the responding agencies to estimate the total core and periphery gang membership in their jurisdiction. Data on this variable was available for N = 229 jurisdictions. The results ranged from a low of zero such local gang members to a high of 6,000 gang members. Overall, a grand total sum of N = 34,506 gang members were indicated in this sample.
The way to put the local gang member population into a more meaningful perspective is in comparison with two other variables: (1) the total number of sworn police officers in the same jurisdiction, and (2) the total civilian population in the same jurisdiction.
First, gang members outnumber municipal police officers by a factor of 2.3 to 1 is the finding of this research. This is very much consistent with previous research results along the same lines by the NGCRC.
Secondly, gang members in relationship as a component of the overall civilian population gives additional and interesting insight into the size of the gang member population in the USA today. Gang members in this sample constituted .005 percent of the overall civilian population. Thus, about 5 in every 1,000 civilians is a gang member is another way of expressing this finding. Given the extent to which large urban areas like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles were not represented in the current sample, and rather the random sample does in fact contain many smaller towns and cities instead, it is reasonable to assume this figure of national gang density in the civilian at-large population (this excludes the number of gang members in prison, conservatively estimated to be 20% in the 1995 national survey of prison wardens, however the mean for juvenile facilities is closer to 50%) is also a conservative estimate.
If we extrapolate this parameter of .005 percent to the overall U.S. census population, we get an estimate of over a million gang members in the U.S. today that are on the streets. Add another 200,000 known to be in correctional custody, and we get the figure of about 1.5 million for the best estimate of the total American gang population in 1996. This is far above FBI estimates and previous federally funded gang research.
About Half of the Cities Report an Increase in Gang Graffiti in the Last Year
The survey asked "have you noticed an increase in gang graffiti or tagging in the last year". Some 49.3 percent indicated that they had in fact noticed an increase in gang graffiti or tagging in the last year.
Half Report Gang-Dress Code Prohibitions at Local Schools
The survey asked "to your knowledge, are certain color patterns or modes of dress identified as gang related prohibited in local public schools". Some 50.7 percent indicated that such gang-dress code prohibitions now existed in public schools in their jurisdiction.
A Fourth of All American Municipalities Have Now Passed Laws Specifically Aimed at Gangs
The survey asked "has your city/county jurisdiction passed any laws recently that are specifically aimed at gangs (e.g., curfew, etc)". The results show that 28.3 percent of the responding law enforcement agencies report that such local ordinances and laws have recently been passed aimed specifically at gangs. Thus, about a fourth of all American communities have had a serious enough concern about gangs to enact local ordinances.
Few Local Police Departments Have Produced Public Brochures About Gangs
The survey asked "has your Department produced any public education brochures or pamphlets related to gangs". Only 16.8 percent of the police departments indicated they had in fact produced such public brochures about gangs.
Over Half Report Outside Gang Contacts
The survey asked "have gang members recently made even temporary visits (of at least a few days, for whatever reasons) to your community/jurisdiction". Some 57.7 percent indicated that such outside gang contacts had occurred recently. Two follow-up questions were used as well. The first asked "if yes, were any of these gang members from Chicago", and 38.9 percent reported Chicago as the origin for outside gang contacts. The second question asked "if yes, were any of these gang members from Los Angeles", and here 38.8 percent indicated "yes". So, Chicago and Los Angeles are about equal in terms of the source or origin for common outside gang influences.
Beliefs About the Origin of Local Gangs
The survey asked "which do you believe accounts for most of the gang problem in your area of the United States: ___the gangs arose by normal residential relocation and local genesis, or ___the gangs arose by deliberate migration of gangs into new areas". Some 63.1 percent indicated the first option: gangs arose by normal residential relocation and local genesis. Some 39.9 percent expressed the belief, however, that gangs arose by deliberate migration.
Two Thirds Have Seen Cases of the Familial Gang Transplant Phenomenon
The survey asked the question about the familial gang transplant phenomenon as an explanation for gang proliferation. The wording spelled out in exacting detail what was meant by the question: "have you seen cases where a parent relocates to your area (knowing their child was involved with a gang and perhaps thinking they can simply move away from the problem), and basically transplants the gang problem to your area". Some 67.5 percent of the responding law enforcement agencies indicated they had in fact seen such cases of the familial gang transplant phenomenon.
A Fourth Consider Some of the Gangs in Their Area An Organized Crime Problem
The survey asked "do you consider any of the gangs in your jurisdiction to be an organized crime problem". Some 28.3 percent indicated they did in fact consider some of the gangs in their area an organized crime problem.
Two-Fifths Report Gangs Are a Problem in Their Public Housing
Among those who did have public housing in their jurisdiction, other than that for the elderly, some 44.1 percent indicated that gangs have been a problem in these public housing areas.
Over Two Thirds Believe The Federal Government Should Play a Greater Role in the Prosecution of Gang Crimes
The survey asked "do you believe the federal government should play a greater role in the prosecution of gang crimes". Some 71 percent of the responding local law enforcement agencies did in fact express the belief that the federal government should play a greater role in the prosecution of gang crimes.
Low Level of Gang Involvement in Local Politics
The survey asked "are any gangs in your jurisdiction getting involved with or active in politics". Only 3.1 percent of the responding cities indicated there were any gangs in their jurisdiction that were getting politically active.
Drug Sales, Turf Issues, and Bias Crime: Racial Differences for Gang Involvement
Three separate questions addressed the matter of racial differences for gang involvement in (1) drug sales, (2) turf issues, and (3) bias crime. The survey asked "which type of gang is most active in illegal drug sales in your area". As seen below, the largest single category was "all races". The survey asked "which type of gang is most active in turf issues in your area". As seen below, white gang members have a very razor edge lead in this regard. Finally, the survey asked "which type of gang is most active in racial extremism and bias crime in your area". As seen below, whites clearly lead in this category.
Black Hispanic White All Races
Illegal Drug Sales 23.6% 19.1% 22.6% 34.7%
Turf Issues 19.8% 26.7% 27.3% 26.2%
Bias Crimes 21.3% 14.8% 42.6% 21.3%
Gangs Considered Forms of Organized Crime
The survey asked "do you feel any of the following gangs could be considered forms of organized crime" and the respondents were instructed to "check all that apply". The results for six specific gang categories showed the following results:
Percentage Who Considered These Gangs Forms of Organized Crime
Type of Gang % Feel it is a Form of O.C.
Gangster Disciples 53.9%
Vice Lords 43.9%
Latin Kings 51.7%
Aryan Brotherhood 58.8%
Only Half Report the Gang Members in their Area are Predominantly Racial and Ethnic Minorities
The survey asked "are the gang members in your area predominantly racial and ethnic minorities". Some 52.6 percent indicated "yes". Thus, 47.4 percent indicated "no". The conclusion is clear: only half report the gang members in their areas are predominantly racial and ethnic minorities.
Only About a Fifth Have A Specialized Gang Unit
Having a specialized gang unit to handle gang problems is a factor of modern police organization and management: new problems require new solutions. However, having a gang unit per se is often an aspect of organization available only to medium sized to larger police departments. Not surprisingly, only 18.2 percent of the responding law enforcement agencies reported that they had specialized gang units to handle gang problems.
Most Believe Some Gangs Can Migrate
The survey asked "do you believe some gangs can migrate to jurisdictions such as your own". Obviously, there are some specialized gangs that may fit this profile. Not surprisingly, 96.4 percent of the respondents did believe some gangs can migrate.
Over Half Attribute Some of Their Gang Problem to Migration
The survey asked "do you believe any of the gang problem in your jurisdiction is due to gang migration". Here 59 percent indicated that some of their local gang problem can be attributed to gang migration.
Less Than a Third Have a Strategic Plan to Deal With Gangs
The survey asked "does your Department have a strategic plan for dealing with youth gangs". The results show that only 30.2 percent of the responding agencies had a strategic plan for dealing with gangs.
The Gang Problem Arising Out of Migration or Contagion Effect
The survey asked "please estimate to what extent the gang problem in your area arose because of gang migration (i.e., outside gangs coming into your area to develop their own local franchises or local chapters)", where the response modes varied from a low of zero (for NOT A FACTOR) to a high of ten (for MAJOR FACTOR). The mean, or average score, was 3.2 on a zero to ten point scale for this factor.
Another question asked "please estimate to what extent the gang problem in your area arose because of the 'copy cat' phenomenon (i.e., youths who use names of national groups without really having ties to the same groups in other areas)", and again the same response mode system was used (0-10). The mean, or average score, was 5.0 on a zero to ten point scale for this variable.
Nearly a Fourth Report Hate Group Crime Problems
The survey asked "do you feel that hate groups (KKK, neo-nazis, skinheads, etc) are a crime problem in your area". Some 23.9 percent of the respondents, nationally, did in fact report such hate group crime problems.
A Fifth Report Motorcycle Gang Problems
The survey asked "do you feel that motorcycle gangs are
a crime problem in your area". A fifth of the national sample (20.9%) reported
that they did feel that motorcycle gangs are a crime problem in their area.
The Spread of the "Better Growth and Development" GD Front Problem
Gangs use a number of political front or public relations gimmicks to portray themselves as something other than a gang. The idea is to give the image of "do gooders" for the "hood" or community. This is helpful to the gang in a number of ways: to build political power, to cool off "heat" from law enforcement investigations, to silence good citizens who may otherwise want to cooperate with law enforcement and gang prosecution, etc.
On January 24th, 1994 Wallace "Gator" Bradley, the political front group representative for Larry Hoover's Gangster Disciple gang, was at the top of his image polishing in terms of public relations for the GDs. Gator Bradley on 24 January 1994 was able to meet personally face-to-face with President Bill Clinton in the oval office of the White House. A photograph shows Gator wearing his hat while face-to-face with President Clinton (see Chicago Tribune, Friday, Feb. 18, 1994, section 2, p. 6). According to one source Gator actually had the audacity to introduce himself to President Clinton as representing a group called "Better Growth and Development".
One this is certain: the spread of gang public relations gimmicks is on the increase. The 1996 survey therefore asked the question "have any gang members in your jurisdiction used the phrase Growth and Development or Better Growth and Development to refer to the Gangster Disciples or Black Gangster Disciples respectively". Some 10.6 percent of the respondents, nationally, did in fact indicate that this gang phenomenon had now hit their jurisdictions. Some 13 different states indicated this Chicago-based phenomenon had now spread to their local jurisdictions (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin)!
Most Municipal and Local Law Enforcement Agencies Do Believe in Gang Prevention
The survey asked "do you think that programs could be effective in preventing kids from getting involved in gangs". The response was very strongly in favor of gang prevention. Some 93.1 percent of the respondents did in fact believe in gang prevention.
Job Opportunities, Strict Enforcement, and Drug Prevention: Their Role in Solving the Gang Problem
Three separate questions sought to evaluate the role that job opportunities, strict enforcement, and drug prevention played in developing a solution to the gang problem.
The first question asked the respondent to agree or disagree (strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree) with the statement "job training and employment opportunities are the best solution to the gang problem". The results showed that some 53.3 percent either strongly agreed or agreed to this idea.
The second question asked the respondent to agree or disagree with the statement "strict law enforcement is the best solution to the gang problem". Here some 66.4 percent either strongly agreed or agreed to this idea.
The third question dealt with the statement "gang problems can be prevented by means of effective drug prevention and drug education". Here Some 44.9 percent either strongly agreed or agreed with this idea.
Over Half Believe Social Workers Can Play an Important Outreach Role
The survey asked "do you think social workers can be effective in reaching out to persons who might want to quit the gang". Some 62.5 percent did in fact believe that social workers could play an important role in this regard.
Nearly Two-Thirds Believe Social Workers Can Be Effective in Primary Gang Prevention Roles
The survey asked "do you think social workers can be effective in helping kids stay out of gangs". Here some 65.1 percent of the law enforcement agencies in the national sample indicated that they do in fact believe social workers can be effective in this primary gang prevention role.
It is Unanimous: Gang Members Like Seeing Themselves on the News
The survey asked "do you think that gang members like seeing themselves on the news". Some 96 percent of the responding law enforcement agencies indicated they do believe that gang members like seeing themselves on the news.
Three-Fourths Agree: Less Mass Media Attention to Gangs Would Mean Fewer People Joining Gangs
The survey asked "do you feel that if less attention was given to gangs on television, in newspapers, and in movies that fewer people would join a gang". The results indicated that three-fourths (77.7%) of the law enforcement agencies in this national survey did in fact accept this thesis: less media attention to gangs would mean fewer people joining gangs.
Three-Fourths of Local Police Agencies Believe that a Very Aggressive Gang Suppression Policy Could Reduce the Gang Crime Problem in Their Area
The survey asked "do you believe that a very aggressive gang suppression policy by your agency could substantially reduce the gang crime problem in your area". Three-fourths (75.2%) of the responding police agencies did in fact agree that a very aggressive gang suppression policy could substantially reduce the local gang crime problem they faced.
Strategies Used By Local Police Agencies to Combat Gang Crime
The survey asked "which of the following strategies does your agency employ to combat gang crime (CHECK all that apply)". Among the very top five most commonly used strategies to combat gang crime were: Aggressive patrol (66.2%), DARE (64%), Intelligence gathering (55.4%), Use of confidential informants (43.9%), and Surveillance (43.2%). The mid-range of most commonly used strategies included the following five strategies: Foot patrol (32.7%), Meetings between beat officers and the community (32.7%),
Multi-jurisdictional task forces (32.4%), Targeting gang leaders (25.9%), and Citizen block clubs (25.5%). Among the least commonly used strategies to combat gang crime in descending order of use were the following: Covert buy-bust operations (19.8%), Gang tracking computer system (19.1%), Close surveillance of gang probationers (14.0%), GREAT (11.9%), Close surveillance of gang parolees/probationers (11.2%), Gang sweeps (11.2%), Vertical prosecution (9.7%), Formation of citizen patrols (9.4%),Identifying by name and/or photo in local newspapers gang members who have been arrested (7.9%), Satellite police stations (7.9%), Wanted posters (6.8%), Civil legal actions against gang members (5.0%), Witness protection (4.0%), and finally least used: Infiltration (1.4%).
Most Police Agencies Believe in A Combination of Both Prevention and Suppression
The survey asked "in your opinion, which is the most effective law enforcement strategy for dealing with gang problems: __Prevention __Suppression __Both prevention and suppression". Some 11.7 percent chose prevention only. Only 4 percent chose suppression only. However, the vast majority (84.3%) chose the combination of "both prevention and suppression".
About Four Out of Five Agree: Publicity to Gang Arrests Benefits the Gang Whose Members Are Arrested
One theory about gangs and publicity is that gang members crave it even when it is negative attention such as their members being arrested. The theory is that like conflict itself, any attention (good or bad) gives an image boost to the gang. So the survey looked at this issue directly.
The survey asked the question "do you think that media attention to the arrests of gang members (i.e., television or newspapers identifying the name of arrestee and his/her gang affiliation) is a publicity benefit to the same gang whose members are arrested". Some 21 percent did not believe this would be of benefit to the gang. However, 79 percent did in fact believe that such media attention would be a publicity benefit to the gang.
Two-Fifths Agree With the Reaction-Formation Thesis
The reaction-formation thesis is that where a gang lacked solidarity, aggressively police suppression could inadvertently instill or increase gang solidarity. Theoretically, the gang problem is compounded in this scenario, but it is not a theory that has actually been tested. And all this survey measures is beliefs, it provides no longitudinal test of the issue.
The survey asked "do you believe that a very aggressive gang suppression policy by your agency could inadvertently increase the solidarity of the gang members prosecuted". Some 57.4 percent expressed the view that no such solidarity would ensue. However, 42.6 percent did believe that solidarity might be increased among members in such a situation.
The Federal "Report Card" on National Gang Problems Since 1992
The survey asked "what kind of report card grade would you give elected federal government officials for addressing the national gang problem since 1992". Less than one percent (.8%) gave elected federal government officials an "A" for addressing the national gang problem since 1992. Only 5 percent gave federal leaders a "B" grade in this regard. So, only 5.7 percent of the overall law enforcement community represented in this sample gave federal elected officials a high grade (A or B grade) for their performance in addressing the American gang problem since 1992.
A full third of the sample (33.6%) gave federal officials a "C" grade: average.
However, 40.1 percent gave federal officials a "D" grade. And 20.6 percent gave federal officials an "F".
Overall, the national mean or average grade assigned to federal elected officials in their "success" of dealing with the national gang problem since 1992 was a "grade point average" of 1.25 on a traditional 4-point scale (4=A, 3=B, 2=C, 1=D, 0=f) which translates to an unimpressively low grade (i.e., a "D-minus"). The only conclusion one can possibly make from these findings is that the real "troops" out in the trenches of American cities fighting the war against gang crime --- the several hundred local and municipal police departments in 48 states that responded to this national survey --- are not very impressed with the crime-fighting performance of the federal government during the last four years regarding the gang problem in America today.
Gang Owned Business Enterprises
The large national study of the economic function and structure of American gangs by the National Gang Crime Research Center (Project GANGECON, 1995) showed that some of the more organized gangs, and even those with regular sources of large illegal income from drugs, are able to buy and operate what may seem to be legitimate business enterprises. This is a very common and expected gang development in larger urban areas where gangs have enjoyed the tenure of existing over a long period of time.
The survey therefore asked "has you agency uncovered any gang involvement in local legitimate businesses". Some 9.2 percent of the respondents in 19 states indicated that "yes" in fact gangs had been detected as being involved in business enterprises in their areas. A follow-up question asked "if yes, what kinds of businesses (CHECK all that apply"" for a list of commonly used gang fronts for laundering their illegal money in what are mostly cash-based businesses. Of the 25 respondents who indicated that gangs had some involvement in local businesses here are the results for type of business establishments gangs were actually involved in: restaurants and fast food businesses (N = 8), pool halls (N = 6), gang rooms and video arcades (N = 7), car washes (N = 6), taverns (N = 5), car repair businesses (N = 8), dance clubs (N = 8), beeper and cellular phone stores (N = 6), jewelry stores (N = 1), and auto paint and body stores (N = 9). Obviously, some of these types of businesses work well in mixing legitimate business with crime as well.
An additional and separate question was addressed to outside gang influence in regard to gang-involved business enterprises. The survey asked "has your agency found any evidence of legitimate businesses being controlled by gangs from outside of your own community". Here, only 3.6 percent (N = 10) of the respondents indicated such outside gang control of local business enterprises.
Most Believe in Zero Tolerance for Gangs
The survey asked the respondents to agree/disagree with the statement "a zero tolerance policy is the best approach for dealing with gangs and gang members". Some 85.8 percent of the respondents either strongly agreed or agreed to this statement.
Gangs: Social Problem or Law Enforcement Problem?
The survey asked the respondents to agree/disagree with the statement "gangs and gang members are a social problem and not primarily a law enforcement problem". Some 30.5 percent either strongly agreed or agreed. Some 18.5 percent indicated "neither agree or disagree". But 32 percent disagreed and another 18.9 percent strongly disagreed. Thus, 50.9 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea that gangs and gang members were primarily a social problem and not a law enforcement problem.
Three-Fourths Report Female Involvement in Local Gangs
The survey asked "are females also involved in the gangs in your area". Some three-fourths (74.7%) of the respondents indicated that females were in fact also involved in the gangs in their local gangs.
A separate follow-up question asked "if yes, estimate what percentage of the total gang member population in your jurisdiction are females". The results ranged from as low as zero percent to 50 percent. But the mean, or average, was that 11.4 percent of the gang members nationally were females.
Half of the Cities Report Gang Disturbances in Schools During the Last Year
The survey asked "have there been any gang disturbances in the public schools in your area in the last year". Some 51.1 percent of the responding cities did in fact report that there had been gang disturbances in the public schools in their cities during the last year.
Over Two-Thirds Believe Politicians Want Law Enforcement Agencies to Downplay or Deny the Gang Problem
The survey asked "do you believe that some politicians want law enforcement agencies to downplay or even deny the gang problem". Some 69.5 percent of the respondents did in fact believe that politicians want the police to downplay or deny the gang problem.
A Fourth Report Asian Gangs or Asian Gang Members in Their Areas
Asian gangs and Asian gang members are obviously not limited to large urban areas any more. But most research on gangs of this type (i.e., agency research) has not tracked the Asian gang problem. The 1996 survey did include this variable.
The survey asked "have any Asian gangs or Asian gang members been active in your jurisdiction". Some 25.5 percent of the responding law enforcement agencies did in fact report Asian gangs or Asian gang members in their cities.
Asian gangs or Asian gang members are geographically dispersed and showed up in 28 different states (AK, AR, AZ, CA, CT, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, LA, MI, MN, MO, MT, ND, NE, NH, NJ, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, WA, and WI).
Rare for Gangs to Be Active in Politics
The survey asked "have any gangs become active in politics in your jurisdiction". Only 1.8 percent of the respondents indicated that gangs had in fact become active in politics in their jurisdiction.
Rare for Politicians to Be Sympathetic to Gangs
Just like gangs being active in politics, we know it occurs in large urban centers like Chicago, just as it is not uncommon in some areas for politicians to be sympathetic to gangs. But our findings indicate that overall, that is from a national perspective, this is still a rare politician who is sympathetic to gangs.
The survey asked "are any politicians sympathetic to gangs in your jurisdiction". Only 5 percent of the respondents indicated that any politicians were sympathetic to gangs in their areas.
About a Fourth Report Their Agency Has a Gang Prevention Program
The survey asked "does your agency currently have a gang
prevention program". Some 24.7 percent reported their agency does in fact
have a gang prevention program.
FINDINGS ON OTHER POLICY ISSUES
Crime Attributable to Non-Residents of the Same Community
The survey asked "please estimate what percent of all arrests in the last year were of non-residents of your community or your jurisdiction". This is the "outsider did it" phenomenon. The results showed a distribution ranging from a low of zero percent to a high of 100 percent. The overall national mean or average was that 36.1 percent of all local crime could be attributed to such outsiders or non-residents.
Local Economic Indicator
The survey asked the local police department chiefs to "rate the extent to which you believe your jurisdiction is economically declining (e.g., loss of jobs, etc) or improving". The response modes included a range of values between a low of zero (for DECLINING) to a high of 10 (for IMPROVING). The overall national mean or average for this local economic indicator was a value of 6.0 on a 0 to 10 point scale.
Political Influence on the Law Enforcement Function
The survey asked "do you believe that local politicians have influence on local law enforcement agencies". Most (87.9%) indicated that they do believe there is political influence on the law enforcement function.
Two-Fifths Report A Correctional Institution in or Near Their Community
The survey asked "is any state or federal correctional institution located in or very near your community". Some 43.5 percent indicated having a correctional institution in or near their community.
Few Report Political Corruption is a Big Problem in their Area
The survey asked "to what extent is political corruption a problem in your jurisdiction (Check one rating, higher the number higher the problem, lower the number the lower the problem)", and response modes from a low of zero (NOT A PROBLEM) to a high of ten (A BIG PROBLEM) were provided. Some 61 percent gave an absolute rating of zero (NOT A PROBLEM). Only 6.2 percent gave a rating of 6 or higher on a zero to ten point scale.
Almost All Would Recommend A Woman As a Successor in Their Job
The survey asked "would you recommend a woman as your successor if she was qualified for the job". The typical respondent to the survey was a male police chief. Still, some 96.7 percent would in fact recommend a woman as their successor if she was qualified for the job.
Youngest Age Someone Should Qualify for the Death Penalty
The survey asked "in your opinion, what is the youngest age at which a person should face the death penalty for a capital offense". The results ranged from a low of 7 years of age to a high of 25 years of age. However, 75.9 percent gave ages of 16 or under as the age when someone should qualify for the death penalty for a capital offense. The mean, or national average, was 15.4 years of age.
About One in Ten Agencies Sued in Last Five Years
The survey asked "in the last five years, has your agency been sued for employment discrimination". The results showed that 11.9 percent reported being sued in the last five years for employment discrimination.
Brady Bill: Not Generally Effective
The survey asked "since the Brady Bill went into effect in early 1994, have you seen fewer illegal firearms among the offenders in your jurisdiction". The results suggest the Brady Bill was a well-intentioned piece of legislation that was more eye wash than substance when it comes to effectiveness. Some 90 percent of the responding police agencies answered the question "NO". Only ten percent reported seeing fewer illegal firearms among the offenders in their jurisdiction.
Strong Support for Boot Camps (For First Offenders)
The survey asked "in your opinion, can boot camps be effective in reducing continued criminal behavior among younger first offenders". Some 92.4 percent of the respondents did in fact believe that boot camps could be effective in this capacity.
Most Expect Violent Juvenile Crime to Increase in the Next Two Years
The survey asked "in your opinion, do you expect the number of violent crimes committed by juveniles to increase or decrease within the next two years". Some 81.4 percent expected violent juvenile crime to increase in the next two years. Only 3.6 percent expected a decrease. And 15 percent felt it would remain about the same as current levels of violent juvenile crime.
Most View Crack as A Greater Public Safety Threat Than Powder Forms of Cocaine
The survey asked "in your opinion, which kind of drug would pose the greatest threat to public safety in your jurisdiction". Some 16.7 percent chose "powder cocaine". But most (83.3%) chose "crack cocaine".
Most Believe Parents Should Be Held Financially Responsible for Crimes Committed by their Children
The survey asked "do you believe parents should be held financially responsible for crimes committed by their children". Some 12 percent did not believe in the idea of holding parents financially responsible for the offenses committed by their children. But most (88%) did believe parents should be held financially responsible for crimes committed by their children.
Half Report an Increase in Arrests for Female Offenders
The survey asked "has your jurisdiction seen an increase in arrests among female offenders in the last one year time period". Some 50.4 percent reported such an increase. The other half (49.6%) reported no such increase.
Under Half of the Police Departments Have a Policy of Random Drug Testing for All Sworn Officers
The survey asked "does your Department have a policy of random drug testing for all sworn officers". Some 57.9 percent said "NO". Some 42.1 percent said "YES".
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
We now come to summarizing the overall results of this study and providing some commentary where appropriate. Obviously, a host of issues exist here. While further analysis is expected in the future on this data, the present report has provided a full descriptive analysis of all basic findings. Some of these findings are worthy of comment here.
Overall, these results are largely consistent with intensive statewide surveys of law enforcement agencies. In 1995, the states of Georgia and Wisconsin were studied intensively, with many of the same items used in the present survey. The results are remarkably consistent, suggesting similar levels of the gang problem. Thus, the scope and extent of the gang problem revealed in this report is consistent with other recent research as well (see Project WISCONSIN95; Project GEORGIA95). Our best estimate is that about three-fourths of all American cities now face some degree of a local gang problem (i.e., gang members are present, gang disturbances and/or crimes can be attributed to gang members, etc).
One issue is apparently the discrepancy between perception and reality when it comes to the difficulty of developing confidential informants among gang members. Four-fifths of the police departments reported that it was hard to get gang members to be CI's. Research on gang members shows about a third will flip on their gang, given the right incentive. The research by John Laskey on developing gang CI's may help investigators better understand this process. The Laskey research will be published in an upcoming issue of this journal.
A large issue that emerged in this research was that of the estimated gang member population in the United States today. Our estimate is admittedly a "rough" estimate, and using statistical techniques could certainly harden it up a little in terms of adjusting for the size of the jurisdiction in relationship to gang density. However, the fact remains: the finding does prompt some attention when the estimate exists that 5 of every 1,000 members in the population "at-large" are estimated to be gang members nationally. Therefore the national estimate of the true size of the American gang population, once we add the 200,000 from the U.S. correctional population, is probably around 1.5 million. This far exceeds any previous estimate including that provided by federal investigative agencies. Frankly, we are not surprised by this. The FBI is not currently required in its Uniform Crime Report to statistically isolate gang members in the arrestee population, so technically there is no statistical responsibility in the UCR that can address this fundamental issue. Should the FBI's U.C.R. data be changed to reflect a tracking capability for what is obviously a significant national policy concern? Yes, certainly. Perhaps if we had such basic statistics from the U.C.R. data the findings presented here would not be surprising.
Our data does not support the premise of a strong across the board high level of cooperation that local police departments get regarding gang cases in relationship to the major federal investigative agencies (FBI, BATF, DEA, INS). Over two-thirds (71%) of the responding local police departments did express the opinion that there should be a stronger federal involvement in the prosecution of gang crime. Many regard some of today's modern gangs as new forms of organized crime. Greater interagency cooperation and interfacing on basic gang intelligence could be of substantial benefit to local law enforcement agencies.
A large number of the American cities represented in this study reported the onset of a gang problem since 1992. Not surprisingly, local police departments are still "gearing up" to confront this problem. Gang training, the use of computer tracking systems, having specialized gang units in the organization, the use of various strategies to suppress the gang problem --- all lag behind the rapid recent onset of the gang problem.
Finally, there appears to be little merit to the claim that the federal government in the last four years has had a strong record of successful leadership in combatting the Nation's gang crime problem. When asked to give a "report card" grade to elected federal officials on their success in addressing the gang problem, the national average grade from local police chiefs is a D minus.
1995 The Economics of Gang Life: A Preliminary Report of
Project GANGECON. Chicago, IL: National Gang Crime
1995 Preliminary Results of the Statewide Survey of Law
Enforcement Agencies in Georgia. Chicago, IL: National
Gang Crime Research Center and the Chicago Crime Commission.
1995 Preliminary Results of the Statewide Survey of Law
Enforcement Agencies in Wisconsin. Chicago, IL:
National Gang Crime Research Center.
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