Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News


Which is Best?

Which definition of gang crime is best?  Gang-motivated or gang-member based?  The following definition of each has been drawn from Candice M. Kane's Prosecutor: Technical Assistance Manual.


In this procedure, according to the Chicago Police Department, a criminal act is defined as a gang incident if it grows out of gang motivation, interest, or specific circumstances that enhance the status or function of the gang. These acts include: inter-gang violence, gang retaliation, turf protection, intimidation, robbery, recruitment, or other criminal activity that affects the gang's reputation or interests as a whole. 

One or more members of the gang may be involved as a suspect, witness, offender, or victim in these circumstances. In classifying the incident, focus is on the nature of the specific situation in which the illegal act occurs, such as a drive-by shooting or the yelling of a gang slogan in the course of the crime. 

Crimes such as burglary, car theft, prostitution, and drug trafficking by a gang member are problematic because it is hard to determine whether the act is gang-motivated. Many criminal acts serve individual member needs unrelated to gang interests. 

On the other hand, seemingly individual or self-serving crimes by gang or aspiring gang youth may be gang-motivated. For example, a youth may be required or feel compelled to commit a particular property or person crime because of pressures by the gang. 


This procedure, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, is based on the characterization of a crime or delinquent act as a gang incident when the suspect, offender, or victim is a gang member, regardless of gang motivation or circumstances. Usually any serious criminal act, especially of a violent, predatory, or drug trafficking nature, in which a gang member is involved, can be classified as a gang incident. 

For example, the crime of a gang member who steals from a store--even though that act has nothing directly to do with his gang membership--would be classified as a gang-related incident. (See Appendix B for a discussion of mixed situations and erroneous classification of group delinquency as gang crime.) 

Which Definition to Use 

The argument in favor of using the gang-motivated definition is that it focuses sharply on the circumstances of the incident rather than the identification of the individual as a gang member. It may be more precise and valid than the gang-related definition. It withstands court challenges better. It also avoids excessive labeling or exaggeration of the gang problem. 

The counter-argument is that the gang-motivated definition minimizes the actual scope of the gang crime problem. It may encourage organizational or community denial of the problem. A key assumption of the proponents of the gang-related definition is that a gang member is likely to engage in a wide range of serious crimes because gang membership predisposes him or her to do so. Evidence for this argument is not substantial, however. 

Police and prosecutors generally believe that it is desirable to identify gang members and their activities as completely as possible. Police are particularly concerned that the full range of criminal activities of the gang member be available for efficient tracking and investigation purposes. 

We recommend a procedure that avoids excessive labeling of youth but ensures protection of the community. A gang-incident procedure should be devised that records and distinguishes between gang- motivated and non-gang-motivated crime committed by the gang member. All serious criminal incidents by repeat gang offenders should be clearly "flagged" on criminal justice computer systems. An effective computerized information system permits use of either or both procedures to track gang-motivated incidents and gang member crime.