The problem of gang violence and gang participation is a topical one for many cities in the US and around the world. Law enforcement agencies are constantly developing new approaches to ensure better efficiency and effectiveness when solving gang-related issues. Over the past decades, police have identified a set of the most reliable practices for providing community-oriented policing and establishing peace in neighborhoods. These include tactics in the areas of prevention, intervention, and suppression.
Police have a major role in preventing crimes and enforcing the law to keep citizens safe from harm and malicious activity of individuals who wish to employ violence to derive benefits for themselves. Gangs are among the main agents of crime in the US, and their activity directly affects the well-being of numerous communities. Moreover, there is also a phenomenon called “inter-gang” violence when members of these illegal groups commit criminal acts against one another in their fights over territory and drug markets (Urbanik, 2018). The presence of gangs in neighborhoods and communities creates tensions among the people inside and outside the criminal organization and often leads to violation of the law. The police force recognized the significance of responding to the issue of gangs which resulted in the creation of specialized units. One of the major factors contributing to the success of the police in the area concerning gangs has been community-oriented policing and problem solving (COPPS). This approach has enabled many police departments to embrace a more proactive stance towards resolving the problems related to gang violence and allowed them to develop, test, and implement various tactics.
Since the beginning of a country-wide initiative to address the violence committed by gangs, police agencies have attempted to explore a variety of interactions to decrease the level of crime and ensure safety for communities. In the 1980s-1990s, gang violence was on the rise, especially in neighborhoods which did not have resources due to being disorganized and economically depressed, which caused people to panic (Novich, n.d.). In other words, the public seeing the crime statistics concerning different areas of their cities waned the authorities to commit to taking decisive steps to resolve the existing problem. In an attempt to demonstrate their force, police agencies chose suppression as their primary strategy of dealing with gangs which implied reactive measures with an intention to disincentivize individuals from being gang members (Greene & Pranis, 2007). Essentially, the desired effect of suppression tactics was not only to minimize the crime rate but also to send a message to the younger generation by showing them the outcomes of joining a gang. The particular suppression tactics have not changed over the decades and still include the same list of measures such as utilizing gang injunctions and making arrests among gang members.
Gang injunctions have been in active use of law enforcement agencies for the past several decades and still remain viable in many states and in various departments across the country. Gang injunctions constitute a restraining order against a group of individuals based on their adherence to a gang; when police receive an injunction, they can choose any person associated with the group and enforce the document (Flores, 2020). This measure has been found to have a positive impact on decreasing the levels of crime and improving the peace in local communities. For instance, a study which assessed the effects of gang injunctions in Los Angeles from 1988 to 2014 discovered that the tactic reduced crime by 5% and 18% in the short-term and the long-term, respectively (Novich, 2018). Yet, such policy, despite its effectiveness, has its shortcomings and is often believed to be used to unlawfully apprehend innocent individuals and restrict their civil rights. Nevertheless, gang injunctions can be a reliable tool for ensuring appropriate community-based policing since they help prevent potentially dangerous persons from entering public areas and thus protect the citizens from harm.
Another law enforcement policy which is targeted at reducing the crime rate in the zones with a heavy presence of gang members and their associates is conducting police raids. This measure also has a long history and has been used since the 1980s as a decisive and proactive interaction. Evidence shows that massive arrests of gang members can yield positive results in decreasing the level of crime and violence. For example, a study which evaluated the results of a gang takedown in Los Angeles found that after the event, violent crime in the area decreased by 22%, and the reduction continued for nine months (Ratcliffe, Perenzin, & Sorg, 2017). Based on the current analysis of research, this measure has been found most effective, and it is not surprising that law enforcement agencies have been using it for so long.
Nevertheless, it has potential negative outcomes, which partially minimize its success and demonstrate that gang arrests must be conducted carefully. According to Urbanik, Thompson, and Bucerius (2017), the removal of gang leaders from a neighborhood can result in the transformation of criminal networks in the area, which can lead to spikes in violence and decreased trust. Aware of such consequences, police departments opted for additional suppressive measures, including patrolling in the communities with numerous gang members. A meta-analysis by Braga et al. (2019) demonstrated that policing of crime hot spots reduced the number of law violations. Evidently, suppression tactics employed by the police force as part of community-oriented policing have the potential to decrease crime rates, yet their effectiveness may increase when using them with other types of strategies.
Police always test innovative ways of improving safety and ensuring the security of the communities they serve. In the early 1990s-2000s, authorities began transitioning from suppression towards less aggressive approaches and decided to develop new tactics to address the problem of gang membership, especially among younger people (Regoli, Hewitt, & Delisi, 2020). One of the prevention measures was the introduction of the Gang Resistance Education and Training program (GREAT), which sought to educate school students on the negative aspects of becoming gang members. Law enforcement officers play a major role in this program since they act as the primary instructors and pursue the mission of creating safer communities and establishing a favorable view of police among students and their parents. Studies show that despite having a positive impact on the participants’ social attitudes, the program is not effective in terms of preventing them from committing delinquencies in the future (Henderson, S. M., & Ozer, 2017). It once again indicates that using one particular set of tactics does not yield a lasting improvement in reducing the crime rate.
Another key strategy integral for police departments is an intervention which implies contacting people who are already participating in gangs and instructing them on the possible outcomes of their activity. There is a variety of intervention tactics; one of them is deterrence through conducting meetings with gang members. For example, a study, which measured the effectiveness of call-in meetings for gang-involved parolees and probationers, found that the participants were subject to rearrest later than those who did not participate in the meetings (Circo et al., 2019). Additionally, intervention tactics include overreach, which involves warning teenagers and young adults against joining gangs. Striving Together to Achieve Rewarding Tomorrows was one of the programs based on contacting high-risk 8–13-year-olds and warning them against substance abuse, gang involvement, and committing a crime. The results showed that the participants were 5-10% less likely to consume drugs and engaging in violent crime than the control group (Henderson, S. M., & Ozer, 2017). Tactics utilized as a part of different strategies, namely, suppression, prevention, and intervention, demonstrate generally positive results even if not considerable. Police have to implement various tactics together to ensure improved safety in the communities they serve.
Police involvement in solving the problem of gangs has been active for the past several decades, and their main tactics concern prevention, intervention, and suppression. In the 1980s, when the issue of gang violence was particularly acute, law enforcement mostly relied on suppression tactics. Nevertheless, this approach is still relevant today since it has been proven to be effective. Namely, tactics such as gang injunctions, arrests, and community patrolling lead to the reduction of the crime rate in the areas where gang members reside. Yet, these methods also often entail negative outcomes and raise concerns over the issues of human rights and freedoms. To address this situation, the authorities, starting from the 1990s, began funding less-radical measures which concerned mainly preventing and intervention. The programs included educating and instructing school students on the consequences of gang participating and committing crimes, as well as conducting meetings with active gang members and warning them against engaging in illicit activity. Research shows that the most effective approach to solving the problem of gang violence and gang membership is implementing a combination of the aforementioned tactics to ensure better safety for communities.
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Circo, G., Krupa, J. M., McGarell, E., & DeBiasi, A. (2019). The individual-level deterrent effect of “call-in” meetings on time to rearrest. Crime & Delinquency, 66(11), 1630–1651. Web.
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