Increasing our Effectiveness
Radiating Specialization and Community-Wide Involvement
A mobilized community
is the most promising way to deal with the gang problem. The development
of informed, consistent relations and procedures among and within organizations
results in greater social control and social support and more effective targeting
of the problem. Criminal justice
agencies, community-based agencies, and local grassroots organizations
must be involved in policy development and program implementation.
Involvement of diverse neighborhood groups in gang neighborhoods is
essential to a viable approach. Local leadership must be recruited and developed
if later racial and class conflicts are to be avoided or minimized in the programs
that are launched. (Spergel,
et al., 1994, p. 4)
Reducing gang activity is not an easy task. It may be easier in a
gang-emergent community than in a chronic gang community, but it is still
difficult to achieve. One of the most difficult aspects of reducing gang
activity in a given community is coordinating the activities of its various
youth-serving agencies and social institutions. Each one is an entity unto
itself, often at odds with or distant from the efforts of others.
Agencies are competing for the same dollars with too few staff and, in
most cases, an overwhelming number of clients to assist. To ask them to take
time away from their work to collaborate and coordinate their services with
other agencies and social institutions is sometimes too much to ask.
This resistance to cooperation and coordination simply needs to be overcome in
order to achieve a genuine and long-lasting reduction in gang activity and youth violence.
In what follows we'll take a closer look at vertical specialization,
community-wide involvement, a blueprint for successful collaboration, and
conclude with a word of advice.
Click on the
topics below or
continue reading down the page ...
By radiating specialization I refer to the need to have at
least one contact person at home, at school, in the police department, in
the prosecutor's office, in court, at juvenile services, and in adult
probation and parole who know about the gang situation. Ideally, this
radiating circle of people who know about gangs culminates in the creation
of a community-wide task force on gangs and youth violence allowing the
entire community to focus on youth issues and their solution.
It is a circle of specialists and concerned citizens which radiates out
from the home, continues through the social institutions of informal control
(i.e., schools, the faith community, the business community, etc.), the
social institutions of formal control (i.e., police, courts, corrections) and ends in the
community. What follows is a brief description of the role each element in
the radiating circle of concern plays and the rationale for each.
Parents should know about gangs, what the telltale signs are of
gang involvement, and how to identify whether their child is
involved in a gang.
are not exempt from learning and knowing about gangs and about
their own children in this regard. Too many parents are either
unaware of their child's involvement in a gang (or tendency in
that direction) or are in denial about it. There also are parents
who know their child is involved but do little to save the
child. These parents need to be identified and offered assistance,
if they'll take it.
|In our Schools:|
Every local school needs to have at least one counselor or other staff member identified as the
individual who will work with local police and the
community-wide task force regarding gang
activity in the school.
Reasoning: In this manner one person in the school knows
which students are involved in gang activity and how each of the
gang members are related to each other and events taking place
in or around the school. In addition, police would then have
one person in the school to contact who can provide
accurate information about the gang situation in the school. The school contact person
should also be
able to inform school administrators as to needed programs, who to
focus them on, and what their content should be.
|In the Police
The local police agency should
have one or more officers (or a unit) dedicated to understanding
the local gang situation (including its relationship, if any, to
other community's gang issues).
By designating an officer(s) to work with
the gang situation the police department creates a invaluable
and focused repository of gang-related information.
The prosecutor should have at
least one assistant prosecutor dedicated to investigating and prosecuting
gang-related cases. The gang-designated prosecutor would then
develop a working relationship with the gang-dedicated police
officer and gang specialist in the school.
Reasoning: This enhances the exchange of
information between the prosecutor's office, the police, and the
schools. When cases against alleged gang members are brought
to court, the prosecutor may be able to better understand the case
within the larger
context of the community's gang situation. When presenting their
cases in court, gang-designated prosecutors may also be able to better inform
judges as to a community's gang situation - to help them see the
Courtroom - Judges:|
The juvenile and criminal courts
should each have at least one judge assigned the task of hearing
cases against alleged gang members, associates, and wannabes/gonnabees.
Having gathered considerable intelligence about his or her community's
gangs through the process described above, the judge should be able to better understand what the
community needs to do to reduce the problems which are causing
gangs to form.
Judicial support for community-based treatment programs
and grassroots movements to improve neighborhoods is critical for their development and expansion. Likewise, if
at least one judge is hearing all the gang-related cases, he
or she should be able to make better informed decisions on
If all gang cases are assigned to the same judge
it is less likely that repeat offenders will be overlooked or
sentenced inappropriately (if a gang member's attorney takes his
client's cases to different judges, no judge knows what the
other is doing, so the offender may not be sentenced properly).
|In Juvenile Services:|
Many communities have an office of juvenile services. The
juvenile officers who work in these offices deal only with
juvenile offenders (minors). The offenders may have been brought
to them by parents, police, or sent by the courts on juvenile
probation and for supervision. At least one officer should be
designated as the gang specialist and be given a caseload of
suspected or known juvenile gang members.
a juvenile officer who specializes in gangs enhances the officer's
effectiveness and should benefit the juveniles with whom he or she
is working. The officer will develop special knowledge about the
gang situation in the community and should be able to clearly
identify those people with whom his or her clients should not
socialize (other gang members).
The officer should also be able to readily
identify if his or her client is wearing a gang identifier or
acting in such a way as to suggest continued involvement in gang
activity. When coming before the court, the specialized
juvenile officer can better inform the judge as to the gang
situation among juveniles in the community which should result in
even better reasoned dispositions of juvenile cases.
Finally, as a participant in the task force,
the juvenile officer can learn much more about the gang situation
in conversation with the representatives from the schools and
|In Probation and Parole:|
Administrators of adult probation and parole services should identify at least one officer to handle all
Probation and parole
officers who work with adult offenders serve several functions. They recommend to judges the kind of sentence which may best serve
the needs of convicted persons and the community. Their
recommendations are typically based upon their pre-sentence
investigation of the convicted person's background.
If the convicted person is sentenced to
probation, the officer are expected to facilitate their rehabilitation. They are also responsible for facilitating
the rehabilitation process for convicted persons released from
prison and placed on parole.
In preparing a pre-sentence investigation report, a
probation/parole officer who specializes in gang-member-clients
learns a great deal about the convicted gang member. By then
serving as the gang member's probation or parole officer, the
officer is better able to serve the convicted persons needs and
those of the community in which he or she is living. They
are also able to make better informed recommendations to the court
as concerns possible sentencing alternatives and are invaluable
sources of information on a community-wide task force.
|In the Community:|
The community should create and
support a task force (example)
or similar organization for the purpose of identifying the services
needed to treat gang members in the community and support
existing agencies providing such services. In
addition, the task force should keep the entire community
appraised of the local gang situation (communicate with the
press, sponsor conferences and community
forums, and make public presentations - in
schools, at meetings of business owners, in faith institutions,
Without the support of the entire
community, the effort to curb the influence of gangs will likely
fail. A community's effort to reduce the influence
of gangs will be enhanced by providing a setting in which the
designated gang workers (the school gang specialist, police gang
officer(s), gang- specific prosecutor and judge, and specialized
juvenile- and probation/parole officers) may meet and share their
knowledge and insights.
The other community partners in the task
force include the faith and business communities, concerned youth
and parents, and any other collective which should be present
(i.e., if there's a military base nearby, there should be a
representative from the base on the task force).
The second aspect of this Part of the book is community-wide involvement.
Without community-wide involvement the effort to reduce gang
activity and youth violence may be weakened considerably.
The success of the
Gang Violence Reduction Program in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood
has demonstrated the effectiveness of multi-agency coordination and
integration among youth services (including street outreach), police, probation,
parole, grassroots organizations, and corrections in controlling and
redirecting serious and violent gang members. Preliminary positive results
... provide further encouragement that serious and violent youth gang
crime can be controlled, if not reduced.
2000, pp. 53-54)
Most communities have a multiplicity of youth-serving agencies and a
broad compliment of social institutions. When they work together to
accomplish an agree-upon goal we have community-wide involvement. When they
don't work together, the result is a fragmented, confusing, and wasteful
hodge-podge of community services.
Poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing, poor
health care and nutrition, substance abuse, inadequate education and
training, teen pregnancy, and violence are challenges hundreds of
thousands of our youngsters and their families face every day. It is no
wonder that children bring more than educational needs into the classroom,
that women bring more than employment needs into the welfare office, that
teens bring more than health concerns into the health clinic, and that
families with infants and toddlers bring more than a need for parenting
skills into a family support center.
It is an examination of these realities - by
administrators, policymakers, teachers, and other frontline practitioners
- that has resulted in a new wave of state and local initiatives to
provide more comprehensive and integrated services to children and
families. These initiatives are based upon the recognition that, from the
perspective of children and families, the current
system of services is too often fragmented and difficult to access.
Families find our systems are contradictory, restricting, and dis-empowering.
In short, they simply fail to meet the real needs of children and families.
et al., 1992,
color added for emphasis)
As mentioned in the Introduction above, inter-agency rivalries
sometimes undermine multi-agency collaboration. There are, however,
promising developments in this arena. What follows are some examples of ways
to reduce gang activity and youth violence based upon community-wide involvement. They are examples of how
local youth-serving agencies and social institutions may work together to
solve a problem.
|Gang Resistance Is Paramount (G.R.I.P.):|
"In an attempt to curb gang
membership and discourage future gang involvement, the city of
Paramount, CA, initiated the G.R.I.P. program, which combines the
resources of families, schools, and local
government. The program attempts to discourage future gang
membership by teaching children the harmful consequences of this
lifestyle and by persuading them to choose positive alternatives.
"The program includes three major components.
The first involves neighborhood meetings that provide parents with
support, assistance, and resources as they try to prevent their
children from joining gangs. These meetings, conducted in both
English and Spanish, often use audiovisual materials and focus on
educating parents about gang activity, increasing family
involvement, supporting sports and recreation programs, and
increasing neighborhood unity to combat gang proliferation.
"The second component comprises a 15-week
course for fifth grade students and a 10-week course for second
grade students. The lessons deal with graffiti, peer pressure,
tattoos, the impact of gang activity on family members, drug
abuse, and alternative activities and opportunities.
"Finally, a school-based follow-up program is
implemented at the ninth grade level to reinforce what children
learned in the elementary grades. The program builds self-esteem
and also focuses on the consequences of a criminal lifestyle, the
benefits of higher education, and future career opportunities.
Evaluations of the effectiveness of the
program have been very positive. (Arnette
and Walsleben, 1998, page)
|Chicago's Little Village Gang
Violence Reduction Project:|
Village Gang Violence Reduction Project was "A successful program which raised school completion rates and
significant effect in reducing violent criminal activity, particularly among
youths who were older when the project began.' There was a statistically
significant 'reduction in the perceived level of gang violence and gang
property crime among residents and groups and organization in Little
Village' as compared to the control community (where the program was not
and Grossman, 1997)
"The project aimed to reduce serious gang violence
at the level of the individual youth gang member and the community area. The
model's underlying assumption was that the gang problem, particularly in serious
and chronic form, was a response in large part to community social
disorganization. The project focused on the integration of strategies of social
intervention and suppression within a supportive framework or organizational
change and development. It also involved community mobilization at the
grassroots level and the provision of increased social and economic
opportunities for youth ages 17-24 years." (Spergel,
et al., 1998, from an abstract written by the staff of the National Criminal
Justice Reference Service)
After three years of operation an evaluation
of the Project was undertaken. The strategy of reducing gang
violence through social
intervention by community youth workers;
provision of social opportunities in education,
job training, and employment
through the development of local contacts and support networks;
and targeted suppression of gang violence through [housing]
project police and probation
team was lowering the rate of gang
crime, especially serious gang violence, for individual youth,
targeted gangs, and the Little Village area.
Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and
Suppression (The Spergel Model):|
"The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Community-Wide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and
Suppression program is designed to implement and test a
comprehensive model for reducing youth gang violence.
utilizes the OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model, or the Spergel model,
as it is often called, to engage communities in a systematic gang
assessment, consensus building, and program development process.
The model involves delivering the following five core strategies
through an integrated and team-oriented problem-solving approach:
"1. Community mobilization, including citizens,
youth, community groups, and agencies.
"2. Provision of academic,
economic, and social
opportunities. Special school training and job programs are
especially critical for older gang members who are not in school
but may be ready to leave the gang or decrease participation in
criminal gang activity for many reasons, including maturation and
the need to provide for family.
"3. Social intervention, using street
outreach workers to engage gang-involved youth.
"4. Gang suppression,
including formal and informal social control procedures of the
juvenile and criminal justice systems and community agencies and
groups. Community-based agencies and
local groups must collaborate with juvenile and criminal justice
agencies in the surveillance and sharing of information under
conditions that protect the community and the civil liberties of
"5. Organizational change and development,
that is, the appropriate organization and integration of the above
strategies and potential reallocation of resources among involved
Technical assistance manuals that guide
implementation of each of these components are available. (The
manuals are available from the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse by
calling 1-800–638–8736 and asking for Technical assistance
manuals: National youth gang suppression and intervention program.)
As you can perhaps tell, by the time a neighborhood's gang situation
becomes serious, the solutions needed to resolve it become progressive more
difficult to implement. It can be done - other communities have been
successful in reducing gang activity and youth violence through
community-wide comprehensive approaches - but it requires a great deal of work. What follows
are some guidelines for creating a successful collaboration between local
youth-serving agencies and a community's social institutions.
A Blueprint for Successful
A community-wide task force on gangs is a coalition and its power is
greatly enhanced when the members of it collaborate in their efforts to
reduce gang activity and youth violence. To explore these topics together
please review what a
community-wide task force on gangs is then explore a blueprint of how
it might work collaboratively by exploring those parts of Into the
A Word of Advice
Morley and her colleagues (Morley,
et al., 2000) offer some sage advise concerning collaboration.
It takes a considerable amount of time
for communities to develop viable collaborations. These are complex
mechanisms that involve organizations with different institutional
climates and levels of autonomy, flexibility, and power; individuals with
differing levels of experience and expertise; and diverse cultural
contexts that give rise to different ways of defining issues and
Organizations need to develop the trust
necessary to agree on how to work together and to decide what to do. Once
established, collaborative relationships need to be nurtured and
maintained over time. Consequently, collaboration is not easy and takes
much time and effort. Organizations must work to overcome histories that
include turf issues, longstanding isolation, dissension and mistrust among
key parties, and real shortages of resources. (Morley,
et al., 2000, page)
This concludes our look at social institution-related
solutions. What follows is a list of other programs which have been shown to
reduce gang activity and youth violence and links to other materials related to
gangs. Everything on the list is linked to the Internet so more
information can be obtained and so that contact can be made with program
Resources: The purpose of the National
Network for Collaboration is to expand the knowledge base and skill
level of Cooperative Extension System Educators, agency and organizational
partners, youth, and citizens by establishing a network that creates
environments that foster collaboration and leads to citizen problem
solving to improve the lives of children, youth and families.
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.