What Government Could Do
All too often over the past several years of conducting research for this
book I heard tales of how local government was purposely avoiding meaningful
participation in reducing gang activity and youth violence.
Note: With considerable frustration the police gang
specialist told me "Administrators of the police department do not define Skinheads as a problem in
town. But the cops on
the street know it's a problem. And we have police administrators who change their policies whenever they are told to do so by the City
Manager. Everything is determined by politics."
An unwillingness to make public something which would impact negatively
upon a politicians image or which would hinder growth, development, or
tourism, or which would provoke fear seems commonplace in local government.
Note: In a very classy San
I learned that the owner was on several community boards and government bodies which were supposed to be doing something
about gangs. He told me "All they do was talk and, after a
while, I decided to quit. Something fundamental needs to be done. The higher
ups in the city simply will not do anything that will jeopardize
In other communities I was struck by the depth of concern some government
officials had for the quality of life of local youth and their families.
Some of the solutions offered below are a result of my interaction with
these caring, dedicated public officials.
Federal, state, county, and municipal (city) government agencies have a significant role to play in providing and supporting
strategies for reducing and/or preventing gang activity and youth violence.
The following are among the
most promising strategies for governmental solutions.
on the topics below or
continue reading down the page ...
In terms of collaboration,
the community and government are best served when the many levels of
government collaborate with each other in the provision of services.
Collaborative strategies include the sharing vital data, avoiding overlapping or duplicative services,
collective targeting of
problematic issues (such as the presence of gangs and youth violence), and
unifying the assessment or evaluation of services government agencies
provide. The following are related solutions.
Creating a task force on
gangs and youth violence:
If that's too politically incorrect, call it the Task Force for
Youth. One responsibility of the Task Force is to provide a means through
which various agencies can coordinate their activities.
"In response to the rise in
gang-related crime in the early 1990's, Houston's mayor instituted an
Anti-Gang Office and Gang Task Force. The office's mission is to develop
a comprehensive mechanism to reduce gang-related violence and crime. To
meet this goal, the office has implemented prevention, intervention, and
suppression program partnerships with law enforcement, criminal justice
agencies, schools, youth service providers, and the public." (page)
identification of children-at-risk:
Governmental efforts should aim to identify children in need of attention
at the earliest age possible. This can not be stressed
enough. Early childhood experiences are among the most important in a
human being's life. Intervening to reduce undesirable behavior
at an early age is also easier and more cost effective then trying to do so
at a later stage in life.
Gathering and Disseminating Information
An important aspect of collaboration in government is sharing information with the public on matters of gang activity and youth violence.
for any effective action to be taken to reduce gang activity and youth
violence the community must know what's going on. The following are related
|Openly share gang-relevant
information with the public:|
Rather than conceal
information on the gang situation, gather it purposely and
aggressively and make the findings public. Even if it does impact
tourism or some other concern, left unfettered, the gang situation
will devastate the community and ruin everything. A walk through
some of America's most gang-ridden neighborhoods is proof of this
|Providing comparative data:|
A promising strategy is for relevant local government agencies to
gather, analyze, and disseminate information on youth-related problems and
solutions to them as found in similarly situated communities and to facilitate a
community-wide discussion as to which of the solutions may be
successfully adopted in one's own community.
By centralizing this function the community will save money (rather than
having several public and private agencies gathering the same information and duplicating their efforts) and may gain more consistent
information across time. The information gathered will also
enhance the grant writing efforts of local agencies and may lead to an
Providing Programs and Space for
Note: When talking about gangs and solutions, it's important to listen to gang
members and find out what it is that they want from the community. One
of the core gang members I interviewed suggested that a community that wants to reduce
gang activity should respect the gang members.
He told me his gang members
"put up a temporary basketball hoop to keep the kids in
his neighborhood entertained and out of trouble. The cops came
along and threatened us with a rough time if we didn't take the hoop
down. Why don't the Ward reps [neighborhood representatives] come
to the community and talk about needs!"
Represented by its government, the public owns vast resources. Among them
are parks, buildings, and undeveloped land. Promising strategies for programs to reduce
gang activity and youth violence sometimes involve the use of such resources.
From fields for
camping, rooms for meetings and special functions, and athletic events, government has
something to offer.
The government also has agencies which directly impact the quality of
life of community inhabitants (the Health Department, city library, and zoo
may be among them).
| Conducting an inventory of public spaces:|
Conduct an inventory to determine what space be made
available to youth-serving agencies, share the inventory with
them, and facilitate the use of those spaces (i.e., for sporting events, picnics,
camping, workshops, seminars, classes, ceremonies, socializing).
|Using a community center to
target needed events:|
Use a publicly-owned community center in or
near a gang neighborhood to hold special events for children and families
in that neighborhood. There are so many holidays every year - perhaps the
community center could be used for pre-holiday parties so they don't
conflict with normally scheduled holiday events. Involving the community
and offering neighborhood youth an enjoyable and inexpensive (or free) alternative
activity is critically important. The more of them, the better.
Recreational activities are very important
and may be provided by a local Park Board. These supervised activities
off the street, give them something enjoyable to do, and teach them to cooperate with each
other as they play and compete. Expanding on these programs and
evaluating their effectiveness may go far in reducing gang activity and youth violence.
College or high-school students may volunteer to offer free supervision at
recreational events for community service or as a part of their studies.
|Involving senior citizens and
Find ways to further involve adults as role models for
the community's youth. Having them work with children who are not
at risk is as valuable as having them work with at-risk youth. Keeping
good kids good is a major objective in any program to prevent youth violence
|Sponsoring a youth-oriented event
at the museum:|
Whether the local art museum is
publicly-owned or not, it can sponsor several events for children
(i.e., exhibits by and for children, classes in creating art, artistic
performances, an exhibition on childhood based upon adult-created art).
free clinic once (or more) a year:
Offer a once-a-year Free Clinic which
provides impoverished children with a dental check up (and dental work, if
needed), an eye exam and free glasses, sex education, pre-natal
examination, information on infant nutrition and parenting skills,
The local Health Department may orchestrate
a collaborative effort between health care providers in the community
which results in benefiting children and families in need in the community. This effort acts to insulate the recipients from the negative
influences of their impoverished surroundings.
Offering a free,
impoverished youth-oriented library program:
The local library could sponsor and hold events
for impoverished families, build a
collection of gang and youth violence materials, offer Internet training and
access for interested youth, provide mobile services to meet an impoverished
neighborhood's literary needs, and offer a program through which illiterate adults may learn to read.
All of these are insulators against gangs and youth violence.
free day at the
Does your community have a zoo? If it does, and it's owned or even
partially supported by local government, have the zoo declare free
admission one day a year (or more). Then work
collaboratively with the community's school system to have school buses
pick up families in impoverished neighborhoods and bring them to the
zoo. The purpose of this, and similar free
events, is to involve people in need - to make them a part of the fabric
of the community.
Providing park programs
for impoverished youth:
Perhaps your community has city/county parks, pools,
or golf courses. Could they be encouraged to admit impoverished
youth for some healthy, interesting, and enjoyable
activity? Perhaps there's something a local faith institution or business could do to partner with the Park Board in sponsoring
(paying for) an
a special Office
of Youth Concerns:
Create a position in an established agency or new office/agency which oversees programs
and services in the community that address the needs of local youth. An
Office of Youth Concerns could:
Create campaigns which keep
the community's eye on issues affecting local youth and the
quality of life they are experiencing. Kansas City's Partnership
for Children is an example of such an effort.
Prepare an annual report card
on the quality of life of the community's children. Included
would be statistics on how many children were abused, the number of
teens giving birth, spousal abuse statistics, the number of juveniles
detained by the police and in detention, truancy and school drop out
rates, infant mortality rates, etc.
Not only does the report card keep the community
informed, it may act as a catalyst for community action. The
statistics gathered may also be used for preparing grants, making a case for expanding existing services or developing new ones, and by
legislators attempting to pass new laws.
In conjunction with other social agencies and
individuals, it could facilitate the identification of gaps in services for
youth and assist in filling those gaps (i.e., help in conducting
needs assessments, assistance in writing grants). This is part and
parcel of a risk/protective
factor approach to creating a positive environment for youth.
Facilitate the process of
collaboration between youth-serving agencies and in the coordination
of their services.
Create a printed and on-line directory of
youth-serving agencies and services available for all youth in our community
(including those which address issues of youth violence and
Coordinate collegiate service learning activities of all area
students who wish to intern in a youth-serving agency.
Participate in and/or lead
collaborative efforts to obtain grants to support
and expand services provided by existing agencies and develop new
agencies, if needed.
Pursue creative and lucrative avenues for generating funds
both the public and private sectors (perhaps develop a product or
service which could generate funds, introduce a proposal to attach
a fee to divorce filings and court fines, etc.).
Facilitate lobbying for substantial funding increases to
youth- serving agencies in order to replace or offset the
cumbersome and time consuming efforts involved in writing
an Adopt an Agency Program:|
Create an Adopt an Agency Program which solicits from local youth-serving
agencies their list of needs. Then solicit for volunteers and match their
interests with the needs of the agencies. By adopting an agency, the
volunteer agrees to provide assistance for an agreed upon period of time (a
year, two years, etc.). The agencies then know they can count on the
volunteer for more
than a one-shot contribution (unless that's all they wanted in the
Individuals, social organizations, clubs,
businesses and business organizations, faith institutions, and
schools (or certain student clubs or classes in them) can adopt agencies.
Their volunteer efforts, organized by the Adopt an Agency Program,
should go far in extending the reach and impact of the youth-serving
agencies they support.
Assisting in Grant Writing and Funding
Various agencies within government, and certain government employees,
possess valuable grant writing skills. The sharing of these skills with
local youth-serving agencies is a significant and promising strategy. It should be emphasized that many agencies dealing with
gangs and youth violence are struggling to
maintain their current level of service. They need and
want to expand but in a resource-poor environment this can
not be done effectively. Increases in funding, including grants, are
badly needed as are the skills of government employed grant writers.
Government offices are also a potential source of limited funding and are familiar
with other sources of funding of interest to youth-serving agencies.
|Holding seminars on grant writing:|
Government can play a significant role in teaching grant
writing skills to youth-serving agency personnel, identifying sources of grant monies,
seeking out and making contacts, and providing assistance in the grant application
|Holding seminars on funding sources:|
Provide youth-serving agencies with
information on funding sources, names of parties to contact, and
assistance in on-going negotiations with funding sources.
Creating or Modifying
Gang- and Violence-Related
Legislators are of vital importance. Their
foresight and concern can result in the creation or modification of procedures
and laws which have the potential of reducing gang activity and youth violence.
Related strategies include keeping area legislators
and judges attuned to local gang and youth violence activity and concerns and what the community
residents and local government agencies and organizations believe would be an appropriate
response from the law makers.
Becoming familiar with what other jurisdictions are doing legislatively in
regards to youth violence and gangs is another meaningful strategy. Among the newer strategies are the use of boot camps coupled with
education and vocational training programs, shock incarceration (usually a
term of 120 days in prison, often spent in substance abuse treatment), enhanced
penalties for individuals convicted of gang-related crimes, teen courts, and
the use of drug courts. Needless to say, making all youth aware of the
legal consequences of unacceptable behavior is a helpful strategy. The
following are other legislative solutions.
the creation and approval of a renewable four-year
youth development tax:
This tax is dedicated to the support and
expansion of youth programming. Develop a clearly articulated campaign of
information well before voting day complete with an easily understood plan for supporting
and/ or expanding existing youth-services and creating new ones, if needed.
Once the tax has passed, evaluate progress in reducing gang activity and youth violence
in order to determine if the
tax needs to be renewed and, if so, what additional funds will be used for.
code violations and
municipal ordinances to
bring about social change:
By imposing code regulations and municipal ordinances, local government can help clean up an
impoverished neighborhood, remove undesirable residents, and make the
neighborhood a safer and more attractive environment in which to live and
Violations of fire, electrical,
plumbing, and structural codes may either have an abandoned or poorly
maintained property repaired or removed. If a resident (owner or renter) has
done something, or failed to do something (like maintain the lawn) to
his or her property which violates zoning regulations, imposition of
those regulations can rectify the situation, calm community concerns,
and make a statement that the residents of the neighborhood insist on
certain rules being followed. Contact the local Zoning and Planning
office to determine if the irritating situation is, in fact, a violation
of the code.
There are other solutions, to be sure. Every
community is different - with different government agencies and different
gang- and youth violence issues. A closer look at government resources in
the community may suggest additional solutions for the problems the community
The next section deals with justice system-based solutions including
those which may be facilitated through legislation, law enforcement, the
courts, probation and parole, and corrections.
Resources: If you are seeking grant monies, here's
very useful guide for writing a grant which was prepared by the International
Association of Chiefs of Police. Here's a guide on
a Grant Proposal from the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Writing: A Best Practice Guide was developed by the International
Association of Police.
Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in
writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.