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

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
© 2002
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

Part 1:
What Neighborhood Residents Could Do

The gangs discussed in Into the Abyss tend to identify themselves with or conduct most of their activities in specific neighborhoods, not whole communities or cities. By focusing prevention, intervention, suppression, and treatment efforts at the neighborhood level you will be targeting the very heart of the problem. And in order for the solutions to be effective, neighborhood residents need to get involved. 

Every neighborhood must take stock of itself - really work to understand its strengths and weaknesses, particularly learning where it is most vulnerable to losing disenfranchised youth to the lure of street gangs. Then each neighborhood must capitalize upon its strengths in order to overcome its weaknesses. 

To do that, everybody must get involved. Keep watch over a neighbor’s home. Volunteer to work with youth. Donate your time and talent to neighborhood projects. Do something to contribute to your neighborhood’s capacity for providing youth with opportunities to become productive, law-abiding members of civil society. (The Gang Crime Prevention Center, Illinois, page as of summer 2001, off the web as of December 2005)

There are many ways to get involved. You can recruit neighbors to get them involved, participate in publicity mailings, or be a part of a phone chain (one person calls two other people and each of them call two other people, and so on until every one is called about an upcoming meeting or event). You can solicit door-to-door for the cause or participate in town meetings and the programs or events which are held.

Local residents will find that working with the police will also help deter gang activity. Community-oriented policing find police departments building partnerships with the neighborhoods they serve. The creation of sub-stations in gang-infested neighborhoods is an example of community-oriented policing. In their study of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department's gang unit, Katz and Webb report what that department's managers see as valuable about a community-oriented approach.

My idea of the community approach ... I think they want to form a partnership with the community, and one of the programs they put in place is the area manager program, where they have a lieutenant assigned to a specific area and he is the main person. It's like his own little precinct for that community, and they go to that lieutenant with their problems, and that lieutenant fans it out on how to deal with the problem. To me, that's the biggest thing we've done ... move the police department as far as precinct substations back into the community where they don't see us as a taboo or something mysterious ... we're regular people, this is who we are, and we're not going to fix your problem along - we need to fix the problem together. (Katz and Webb, 2004, p. 404)

What follows are some programs you may be interested in emulating or that may help you think of other things which could be done in your community to reduce gang activity and youth violence.

Click on the topics below or 
continue reading down the page ...

bulletSeven Steps to Successful Prevention Planning
bulletThe NEA Plan For Reducing Gang Activity
(The National Education Association (NEA) has an interesting online publication offering suggestions for making schools, families, and communities safer for children.)
bullet Best Practices to Address Community Gang Problems (new in 2007)


bulletThe Gang Reduction Program (GRP)
The Gang Reduction Program, instituted in 2003, was piloted in four cities in the United States (L.A., Milwaukee, Richmond [VA], and Miami). Read about its five-pronged approach to gang reduction (primary prevention, secondary prevention, intervention, suppression, and reentry).

bulletGang Summits and Truces: 
"Gang summits and truces negotiated by local residents may be more effective than those brought about in other ways. In the District of Columbia, members of the Alliance for Concerned Men negotiated a truce among warring gangs that had been terrorizing Benning Terrace. 

"In January 1997, with the help of NCNE (1999), which assisted in strategic planning and provided a neutral meeting location, the alliance stepped in after a period of escalating violence. Six homicides had occurred in Benning Terrace in 1996. Following the alliance's intervention, there were no homicides from January 1997 to August 1998 (National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, 1999)." (Howell, 2000, site)

bulletThe Pied Piper Walked to School: 
Several of the cities I visited had programs where specially trained adults stood on pre-designated street corners in residential neighborhoods and waited for children who they were to accompany to school in the morning. They, or another adult, went to the school at the end of the school day and walked the children back to their respective corners.

This is an easy way to provide security for children and to make a statement about taking one's neighborhood back from gang members who are threatening the children on their way to school or back home. It also provides the adults with information on who, if anyone, is still attempting to harass the children.

Field Note: A police gang unit supervisor told me about what the residents in one of the city's neighborhoods did. "Under the pretense of walking their dogs, the residents donned orange baseball hats and patrolled their neighborhood. They called and gave us the car license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions for suspicious looking drivers and, after a year of doing that, gang members finally left the neighborhood."

bullet Best Practices of Youth Violence Prevention: A Sourcebook for Community Action
These programs are drawn from real-world experiences of professionals and advocates who have successfully worked to prevent violence among children and adolescents. As a CDC publication, the sourcebook also documents the science behind each best practice and offers a comprehensive directory of resources for more information about programs that have used these practices.

The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) notes that there are at least ten things community residents can do to address local problems, whether the problem be gangs or some other issue. (NCPC, as of summer, 2001 - may no longer be in operation as of January, 2004)  While the headings found in that list and the first sentence or two following each were authored by the NCPC, in what I present below I've sprinkled in some material on gangs and youth violence including Internet links you may find of interest.

bulletWork Collaboratively: 
Work with public agencies and other organizations - neighborhood-based or community-wide - on solving common problems. Don't be shy about letting them know what your community needs. Neighborhood-based organizations include schools, local businesses, and the faith community organizations.

Community-wide organizations may include social service agencies (look in your telephone Yellow Pages under "Social Service and Welfare Organizations for a list of agencies to contact), task force groups, and committees established by your mayor or other local politicians.

bulletProvide activities for neighborhood youth: 
Find positive ways for youth in the neighborhood to spend their spare time - through organized recreation, tutoring programs, part-time work, volunteer opportunities, and whatever else you and your colleagues can dream up. 

Contact a local college or university and see if they have a "Service Learning" or community service program which could provide students to act as supervisors for after-school athletic games, volunteering (there's lots of organizations, nursing homes, and other places that could use the help of local youth) or other activities (a tour to the museum, a bakery, a local manufacturer, etc.).

bulletCreate a Neighborhood Watch Program: 
Working with local police, create a Neighborhood Watch program or a residential patrol (then search that web page for residential).  working with police. Make sure streets and homes are well lit at night and that sidewalks are even and easy to walk on (that means residents will likely use them more and gangs do not like crowds).

A Neighborhood Watch program doesn't mean anything if the neighbors don't "watch." The National Crime Prevention Council has some good ideas on how to start a Neighborhood Watch program and keep it active.

Familiarize yourself with the people and cars in your neighborhood. When a stranger or unknown car appears, be alert to the potential of danger. If you are at all concerned, call 911 and report the incident to the local police. If you can get a description of the person or the car (including the license plate number and the color and make of car), all the better!

Oxnard's (CA) Neighborhood Watch Patrol
Have you ever thought of organizing your neighbors to become a civilian watch patrol? The Neighborhood Watch Patrol Handbook offers good ideas and should get you motivated to become active in organizing your neighbors for needed action. The City of Oxnard (CA) has implemented a watch patrol strategy for reducing gang-related activities and believe they have been successful in their endeavors. 

Regarding the ideas presented in the Handbook, the authors of the Handbook states "The recommendations and suggestions are just that, suggestions. We do not intend to say that this is the only way a watch program will work. Each neighborhood is different and has different problems and requirements. Use what you can and adapt the techniques to fit your own neighborhoods circumstances." (Neighborhood Watch Patrol Handbook)  

bulletBuild a partnership with police: 
The partnership should focus on solving problems instead of reacting to crises. The partnership will make it possible for neighbors to report suspicious activity or crimes without fear of retaliation from offenders (possibly gang members).

Partnerships such as this are being sought by police departments across the country and are part and parcel of problem-oriented or community-oriented policing efforts.

When it comes to gangs, share what you know with the police. They will assure you that whatever you say will be held in confidence. If you prefer, meet your local beat officer someplace away from the neighborhood so local gang members don't see you together. That way you need not fear retaliation. 

The Community Policing Consortium provides some useful information. At Community Policing Index you can find a wealth of information and resources on community policing. Here's a source of grants for community policing efforts.

bulletThere's strength in numbers: 
Take advantage of safety in numbers to hold rallies, marches, and other group activities to show you're determined to drive out crime and drugs. 

It's the same way with graffiti. If you remove it every time it appears the gang members will stop putting it there (they may just go elsewhere but at least it's not in your neighborhood any more). 

Removing the graffiti is as bold as the act of creating the graffiti and communicates to those who put it there that neighborhood residents will not tolerate it, that the residents are in control, not the gangs. Did you already read about the four "Rs" of graffiti?

There's usually a local community service agency, private business, or individual who will remove graffiti if they're told about it. To find out if that service is available, contact your local police, juvenile officers, or probation/parole officers.

bulletClean up the neighborhood: 
Involve everyone - children, teens, young adults, senior citizens. Graffiti, litter, abandoned cars, and run-down buildings communicate to criminals that neighborhood residents don't care about their neighborhood, property, or each other. Call the city public works department and ask for help in cleaning up.

You can reach local youths more effectively by contacting your local schools and asking if they would be willing to take on a community service project and help clean the neighborhood. 

Make a weekend of it and have a free lunch for everyone who participates in the clean up. Maybe your local grocers will provide some hot dogs and other things you'll need. With a little work, everything could be provided free of charge except for the labor to cook it up - you and your neighbors can do that.

Having a clean neighborhood tells gang members that you care, and that you're there. It's your neighborhood, not theirs.  If you'd like to know a little more about removing graffiti, visit the site of the Columbus (OH) Police Department. You can also read about how Chicago has tackled the problem of graffiti.

bulletBe creative: 
Ask local officials to use new ways to get criminals out of your building or neighborhood. These include enforcing anti-noise laws, housing codes, health and fire codes, anti-nuisance laws, and drug-free clauses in rental leases. For a sampling of the kinds of city ordinances and state laws which may be used visit Gang-Related Legislation here in Into the Abyss.

bulletForm a Court Watch: 
In order to help support victims and witnesses, create a Court Watch program and see that criminals get fairly punished. A Court Watch program finds neighbors sitting in the court room as members of the audience. This makes a statement to the judge and prosecutor that residents of the community care about what they are doing and that the residents want justice.

Local prosecutors are usually in elected positions. They need your support and vote at election time. Show them that you care about your local youth and the problems some of them are creating for the neighborhood. 

It won't take long before the prosecutor begins to respond to youthful law violators in a way which ruins misbehaving in the neighborhood. Here's an example of a court watch program which focuses upon cases of driving under the influence (DUI). Here's a description of the Canadian Court Watch program.

Invite your prosecutor to a community forum and invite him/her to join your community task force on gangs and youth violence, if you have one. Prosecutors, given the power they have and the relationships they have with judges and police, are a powerful ally in your fight to protect your neighborhood and its children against victimization by gang members.

bulletWork with your neighborhood social institutions:
Work with schools to establish drug-free, gun-free zones; work with recreation officials to do the same for parks. Work to have a gang-free zone in your neighborhood. 

According to the Wilmington (NC) Police Department you can create a gang free neighborhood if you and your neighbors "Develop positive alternative in your community. Share transportation to after school programs. Ask older kids to tutor or mentor younger ones. Ask your child what interests them.

"Get organized against the gang organization. Get help right in your community. Try these kinds people in addition to the police; priest or minister, family counselor, community association, school counselor or principal, athletic coach, youth-serving agencies and others." (Wilmington (NC) Police Department)

Here's a family guide to keeping your children drug-free.

bulletCreate a resource book of youth-serving agencies:
Develop and share a phone list of local organizations that can provide counseling, job training, guidance, and other services that neighborhood youth might need. Look in your telephone Yellow Pages under "Social Service and Welfare Organizations for a list of agencies in your area. Many of the services these agencies are free of charge to those who avail themselves of them. Here's an example of a Resource Guide as prepared by Dan Schepers, Greene County (MO) Juvenile Services, for the Interagency Task Force on Gangs and Youth Violence (scroll down and look on the left side of the screen for "Resource Guide to Agencies and Services").

In order to implement some of the solutions mentioned above, neighborhood or community planning may be needed. Here's a guide you can use in the planning process.

Seven Steps to Successful Prevention Planning
(AGC/United Learning, no date, presented here with permission)

A method for organizing a community for positive action is suggested by AGC/United Learning. (AGC/United Learning, no date)  I've taken some liberty in revising the steps they present to more directly target our concern for at-risk and high-risk youth.

bulletStep 1: Assess community readiness

Is your community ready for prevention? Do they know what's happening and why they should be concerned? If not, you need to get the message out to them.

bulletStep 2: Assess available risk and protective factors

What are the risks factors to which local youth are being exposed and what protective factors are in place to insulate them from the negative consequences of those risks?

bulletStep 3: Prioritize risk and protective factors

Which risk- and protective factors are your priorities? Seek to address the risk factors about which you are most concerned and the protective factors most likely to remedy those risks.

bulletStep 4: Conduct a resource assessment

What resources (protective factors) already exist in your neighborhood/community which address the risks about which you are concerned? Develop a directory of those resources for later distribution to all interested parties.

bulletStep 5: Identify gaps

What protective factors or resources are missing in your community? Your efforts will be to strength existing resources and to find ways to fill the gaps where needed resources are missing. This can be done by expanding the services offered by existing resources and/or by developing new ones.

bulletStep 6: Fill gaps with best practices

Research has shown that there are some programs or services which are better at providing protective factors than others. The best ones are referred to as best practices. A variety of publications are available which discuss best practices in relation to reducing youth violence, delinquency, and gang behavior.

bulletStep 7: Evaluate the results

How will you evaluate your prevention efforts? Did the behaviors you wanted to reduce decline in frequency or severity? For example: Is there less graffiti? Fewer drive-by-shootings? Fewer children experimenting with drugs? Fewer children truant or dropping out of school? 

No solution is likely to be successful, however, without the cooperation and coordination of various individuals, organizations, and agencies. How to build a coalition is our next topic.


Additional Resources: The Annie E. Casey Foundation makes long-term commitments to neighborhoods where distressed and disadvantaged children live. You can visit the Major Foundation Initiatives page of the Foundation's website, read about what they offer, and make your initial contact.

You can also contact Take a Bite Out of Crime and obtain some useful information and free literature to circulate in your neighborhood. Look on the left side of the Take a Bite Out of Crime homepage for some useful links.

The Search Institute (the folks who created the 40 assets model, offers information on building Healthy Communities - Healthy Youth. You can read about Josten's (the class ring company) and the grants they award to certain communities. You can also read about the dynamics of change in asset-building communities, and communities engaged in asset building at the Search Institute site.

© 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.