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

The Methodology of the Study

I visited and conducted research over a period of three years in a total of twenty-one cities in the United States and five cities outside the United States. 

Cities in Which Research was Conducted

In the United States
bulletAurora, Colorado
bulletCharlotte, North Carolina
bulletColorado Springs, Colorado
bulletGainesville, Florida
bulletJoplin, Missouri
bulletKansas City, Missouri
bulletLaramie, Wyoming
bulletLas Vegas, Nevada
bulletLos Angeles (City), California
bulletLos Angeles (County), California
bulletManatee County, Florida
bulletRochester, New York
bulletRock Springs, Wyoming
bulletSan Francisco, California
bulletSarasota, Florida
bulletSeattle, Washington
bulletSilverton, Colorado
bulletSouthern UTE Reservation, Colorado
bulletSpringfield, Missouri
bulletSt. Louis, Missouri
bulletWichita, Kansas

Outside the United States

bulletAmsterdam, Netherlands
bulletCalgary, Alberta, Canada
bulletEdmonton, Alberta, Canada
bulletLondon, England
bulletVancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Information presented in this book came from a variety of sources. Among them were field observations, interviews, participant observation and review of literature. Both qualitative and quantitative data served as evidence for describing and explaining.

I was also guided in my research by the same type of non-probability judgmental sampling used by Katz and Webb in their study of the police response to gangs - namely, maximum variation sampling. (Katz and Webb, 2004, p.  37) Maximum variation sampling is characterized as "sampling as widely as possible within the specified sociocultural context until exhaustion or redundancy is reached." (Katz and Webb, 2004, p.  37) That is, I continued to interview and observe until the responses I was receiving to my questions or the events I was observing became redundant. That's one reason why I stopped riding with police gang units after riding with the twenty-third one. I was seeing the same phenomena over and over. The only difference, generally speaking, was that they were taking place in different locations and at different times.

Observations in the Field

Observations were made in a variety of different settings. Among them were observing:

bullet gang neighborhoods with probation and parole officers and in marked and unmarked police gang unit cars with gang unit officers and command personnel.

bulletpolice shift briefings and training programs.

bullet gang investigator association training conferences.

bullet group treatment programs in probation and parole offices and in community-based treatment facilities.

bullet inmates in prison who were documented gang members.

bullet public meetings of citizens concerned about the gang situation in their neighborhoods.

bullet gang task force groups at their regularly scheduled meetings.

bullet "sweeps."


A total of 157 formal interviews were conducted. The interviews took place with:

bulletgang unit police officers at city, county, and federal task force levels,

bulletpolice command personnel who supervised gang units,

bulletstaff and administrators of community-based treatment programs designed specifically for juvenile offenders (including gang members and violent youth),

bulletprobation and parole officers,

bulletjuvenile officers,

bulletdocumented and undocumented gang members,

bulletparents of gang members

bulletvictims of gangs and their parents,

bulletprison officials,

bulletstudents, school teachers, principals, and security personnel,

bulletsocial researchers,

bullet business leaders,

bullettherapists and counselors who worked with gang members.

bulletleaders of the faith community, and

bulletlocal politicians (i.e., mayors, city managers, state representatives, county commissioners, department of health administrators).

In addition, informal "on the street" interviews were conducted with people who were long-term residents or owners/employees of established businesses in known gang neighborhoods. The informal interviews were used to augment the formal interviews and provided a wealth of insights and ideas which have found expression, in one way or another, throughout this book.

Participant Observation

Using participant observation, researchers immerse themselves in the physical setting in which the phenomenon being studied takes place. Rather than stand on the sidelines and only observe (as in observation studies), participant observers become a part of the social setting being studied.

In this regard I participated in various treatment programs with convicted gang members, in probation/parole home visits to gang clientele, and in police gang unit officer visits to suspected gang members' residences. Although participant observation has its drawbacks (the most serious being the potential influence of the participant observer's presence and/or behavior on the behavior of those being studied), its benefits may outweigh them.

Among the benefits derived in this study were gaining a greater understanding of the behavior taking place by actually seeing and hearing it, being able to interact with the subjects while the behavior was occurring in order to better understand the reasons for their behavior, and being able to gather first-hand evidence.

Participation in the Interagency Task Force on Gangs and Youth Violence was another important part of the research. It is a community task force which represents 23 counties in the state of Missouri. Getting to know the "players" in the community (i.e., city manager, mayor, chief and sheriff, prosecutor, school board members, county commissioners, mental health workers), seeing how decisions are made, determining what contributions, if any, I (or any other similarly situated person) could make, all played a significant role in the research process.

Review of the Literature 

The body of literature on gangs has become substantial and is rapidly expanding. Included are books, articles, videos, and web sites. I have been reading about gangs, on and off, for the past four years and the effort continues to this day.

Included in the materials I read were accounts of original or primary studies of gangs (in which the author went into the field and studied gangs) and secondary analyses (in which the author reads and writes about primary studies conducted by other researchers).  Government reports, documents written by law enforcement authorities on gangs, and hundreds of informational pamphlets collected from treatment agencies, anti-gang programs, police departments, and departments of correction were also read. A list of books and articles used in the creation of Into the Abyss is found in the bibliography.

Qualitative Analysis 

Qualitative research uses methods such as participant observation or case studies which result in a narrative, descriptive account of that which is being studied rather than a numerical account. Qualitative research was used as a way of understanding much that was shared during the interviews.

Quantitative Analysis

Quantitative research uses methods allowing for the measurement of variables and results in numerical data which can then be subjected to statistical analysis. Where quantitative analysis appears in this book it is the product of other researchers' work and is so noted. It adds another and needed dimension to our understanding of the gang phenomenon.

Descriptive Analysis

Analysis which focuses on describing the phenomenon being studied is called descriptive analysis. Descriptive analysis was used in this study to communicate what was found as a result of the interviews, observation, and participant observation.

Explanatory Analysis

Analysis which attempts to explain the phenomenon one is studying is referred to as explanatory analysis. There are several places in this book where explanatory analysis is used including explanations for why gangs form and why some youths join them. 


Additional Resources: For links to United States government-sponsored research on gangs you can visit the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, the National Youth Gang Center, or the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Many of the publication you will find at those sites have been incorporated throughout Into the Abyss.

2002 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.