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
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
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
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