Do Anti-Gang Violence Programs Work?
Some critics point out this so called evidence and stats generated by it can be skewed and sometimes misleading. Agencies may choose not to fill out surveys, do it incomplete, or enter info based on their own systems that may not be entirely accurate. Studies written on gangs are often based on this data and are often authored by college professors that have little to no hands on experience working with street gangs. It is often hard to match these academic studies with reality in the field. First of all, there is no gang definition or validation form that is standard nationwide. Different agencies define gang members differently. Competing data systems like GANG-NET and RISS do exist. This can lead to discrepancies in reports on levels of gang activity which are often relied upon as “scientific proof”. No matter how the data is gathered, many communities have tried to address gang violence problems via local government supported programs.
In Seattle during the 2009-12 fiscal years, the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative budget included a multi-million dollar effort to try and change how the city dealt with youth violence. This included monitoring gang members, who commit a far higher number of crimes than your average youth, but was not exclusively limited to gang members. It was noted, youth-at-risk, gang associates, and so called Wanna-B’s will often commit crimes in efforts they say will protect themselves, or to impress older Original Gangsters (OGs), or so that other youth will fear them. The Initiative serves about 800 young people a year who are at highest risk of perpetuating violence or becoming victims. In 2008, five teenagers were shot to death in Seattle, then-Mayor Greg Nickels brought together community leaders, principals, members of the faith community, and others to develop a new approach to preventing youth and gang-related violence. The program was continued under Mayor-elect Mike McGinn. Previously, the city had a “Team for Youth” program that in early years seemed to work effectively but some said had outgrown the times. Others said the change was more about youth service providers jockeying for position for government funding:
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa points to a 17% overall reduction in gang crime since the city’s new anti-gang program started, but there again stats can be skewed, and the drop in crime may not be entirely attributed to such programs. One piece of the Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) Program that seems to be working well is the Summer Night Lights (SNL) program which keeps parks in gang-plagued neighborhoods open at night during the summer. But, many critics also point out that gang and drug intervention programs are easily infiltrated by gang members who may use these programs as fronts. This includes the hiring of many “former" male gang members as well as hiring female staff that often are married or have boyfriends who are or were gang members. In Los Angeles, it was found that some gang intervention workers were involved in criminal activity, funding was scrapped for some programs and a new initiative was put in place. Other people say only past gang members can understand current gang members and their issues. Regardless, ever since it was implemented, there has been a lot of debate over the L.A. Mayor’s expensive gang program:
In Chicago, a long tradition of gang violence surged in 2010-12. Some former gang officers stated that it was due in part to a new generation of gangsters eager to make their mark on neighborhoods. Some former Chicago Police Department staff confided that the department changed how it operated after several scandals hit the Gang Units and not always in good ways. Some officers believed CPD engaged in de-policing for fear of being investigated or wrongfully accused by gang members. They said it was best to just sit back and not be pro-active any longer. Gang crime soared! In particular, as it was pointed out, gang crime would go up when there was a gang shooting and right afterwards there was a retaliatory shooting so the crime rate doubled right there unless better efforts were made to be pro-active after a gang shooting. "The Chicago Police Department is going to retool our gang strategy from top to bottom", said Supt. Garry McCarthy on March 19, 2012. McCarthy said the department's new strategy will include a gang audit that merges two kinds of intelligence data into a central repository for the beat officer. This effort was supported by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel who was the former Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Chicago’s Cease Fire program hired former gang members as “Interrupters”. The program focused on three main stages to reduce violence: 1) Identification & Detection, 2) Interruption, Intervention, & Risk Reduction, 3) Changing Behavior and Norms:
All four of the above cited programs with internet links have their critics and their supporters. Again, the problems raised above often makes it very hard to tell if gang prevention and intervention programs are always effective. Still, we must try to combat gang problems in our communities. We must try to figure out how well it is working but not just rely on stats alone. Gang unit officers, youth intervention workers, gang prevention workers are the real experts when it comes to dealing with gangs. Parents and school staff are also big stakeholders. I say survey all of them "anonymously" in the areas of Suppression, Intervention, and Prevention, because otherwise they might feel compelled to rate their success higher due to employment or funding issues, and that will likely be a good gauge if programs and agencies really work? We must also remember that it can cost $40,000 or more a year to house somebody in prison. A police officer’s salary can range from $50,000 a year to nearly $100,000 in some places. A small amount of money spent on trying to prevent and deter youth from joining gangs or time spent intervening with young people can save us all a lot as a society in the long run and give us a quality of life that money alone cannot measure!
What are your thoughts on gang prevention, intervention, and suppression programs? Do they work or are they just a waste of tax payers’ money?