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

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Copyright
2002
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

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

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

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News


Part 2:
What Government Could Do

All too often over the past several years of conducting research for this book I heard tales of how local government was purposely avoiding meaningful participation in reducing gang activity and youth violence.

Field Note: With considerable frustration the police gang specialist told me "Administrators of the police department do not define Skinheads as a problem in town. But the cops on the street know it's a problem. And we have police administrators who change their policies whenever they are told to do so by the City Manager. Everything is determined by politics."

An unwillingness to make public something which would impact negatively upon a politicians image or which would hinder growth, development, or tourism, or which would provoke fear seems commonplace in local government.

Field Note: In a very classy San Francisco restaurant I learned that the owner was on several community boards and government bodies which were supposed to be doing something about gangs. He told me "All they do was talk and, after a while, I decided to quit. Something fundamental needs to be done. The higher ups in the city simply will not do anything that will jeopardize tourism."

In other communities I was struck by the depth of concern some government officials had for the quality of life of local youth and their families. Some of the solutions offered below are a result of my interaction with these caring, dedicated public officials.

Federal, state, county, and municipal (city) government agencies have a significant role to play in providing and supporting strategies for reducing and/or preventing gang activity and youth violence. The following are among the most promising strategies for governmental solutions.

Collaborating Government Services

In terms of collaboration, the community and government are best served when the many levels of government collaborate with each other in the provision of services. Collaborative strategies include the sharing vital data, avoiding overlapping or duplicative services, collective targeting of problematic issues (such as the presence of gangs and youth violence), and unifying the assessment or evaluation of services government agencies provide. The following are related solutions.

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Creating a task force on gangs and youth violence:
If that's too politically incorrect, call it the Task Force for Youth. One responsibility of the Task Force is to provide a means through which various agencies can coordinate their activities.

"In response to the rise in gang-related crime in the early 1990's, Houston's mayor instituted an Anti-Gang Office and Gang Task Force. The office's mission is to develop a comprehensive mechanism to reduce gang-related violence and crime. To meet this goal, the office has implemented prevention, intervention, and suppression program partnerships with law enforcement, criminal justice agencies, schools, youth service providers, and the public." (page)

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Facilitating the identification of children-at-risk:
Governmental efforts should aim to identify children in need of attention at the earliest age possible. This can not be stressed enough. Early childhood experiences are among the most important in a human being's life. Intervening to reduce undesirable behavior at an early age is also easier and more cost effective then trying to do so at a later stage in life.  

Gathering and Disseminating Information

An important aspect of collaboration in government is sharing information with the public on matters of gang activity and youth violence. In order for any effective action to be taken to reduce gang activity and youth violence the community must know what's going on. The following are related solutions.

bulletOpenly share gang-relevant information with the public:
Rather than conceal information on the gang situation, gather it purposely and aggressively and make the findings public. Even if it does impact tourism or some other concern, left unfettered, the gang situation will devastate the community and ruin everything. A walk through some of America's most gang-ridden neighborhoods is proof of this outcome.

bulletProviding comparative data:
A promising strategy is for relevant local government agencies to gather, analyze, and disseminate information on youth-related problems and solutions to them as found in similarly situated communities and to facilitate a community-wide discussion as to which of the solutions may be successfully adopted in one's own community. 

By centralizing this function the community will save money (rather than having several public and private agencies gathering the same information and duplicating their efforts) and may gain more consistent and accurate information across time. The information gathered will also enhance the grant writing efforts of local agencies and may lead to an improvement in existing services.

Providing Programs and Space for Them

Field Note: When talking about gangs and solutions, it's important to listen to gang members and find out what it is that they want from the community. One of the core gang members I interviewed suggested that a community that wants to reduce gang activity should respect the gang members. 

He told me his gang members "put up a temporary basketball hoop to keep the kids in his neighborhood entertained and out of trouble. The cops came along and threatened us with a rough time if we didn't take the hoop down. Why don't the Ward reps [neighborhood representatives] come to the community and talk about needs!" 

Represented by its government, the public owns vast resources. Among them are parks, buildings, and undeveloped land. Promising strategies for programs to reduce gang activity and youth violence sometimes involve the use of such resources. From fields for camping, rooms for meetings and special functions, and athletic events, government has something to offer.

The government also has agencies which directly impact the quality of life of community inhabitants (the Health Department, city library, and zoo may be among them).

bullet Conducting an inventory of public spaces:
Conduct an inventory to determine what space be made available to youth-serving agencies, share the inventory with them, and facilitate the use of those spaces (i.e., for sporting events, picnics, camping, workshops, seminars, classes, ceremonies, socializing).

bulletUsing a community center to target needed events:
Use a publicly-owned community center in or near a gang neighborhood to hold special events for children and families in that neighborhood. There are so many holidays every year - perhaps the community center could be used for pre-holiday parties so they don't conflict with normally scheduled holiday events. Involving the community and offering neighborhood youth an enjoyable and inexpensive (or free) alternative activity is critically important. The more of them, the better.

bulletProviding recreational activities:
Recreational activities are very important and may be provided by a local Park Board. These supervised activities keep children off the street, give them something enjoyable to do, and teach them to cooperate with each other as they play and compete. Expanding on these programs and evaluating their effectiveness may go far in reducing gang activity and youth violence. College or high-school students may volunteer to offer free supervision at recreational events for community service or as a part of their studies.

bulletInvolving senior citizens and other adults:
Find ways to further involve adults as role models for the community's youth. Having them work with children who are not at risk is as valuable as having them work with at-risk youth. Keeping good kids good is a major objective in any program to prevent youth violence and gangs.  

bulletSponsoring a youth-oriented event at the museum:
Whether the local art museum is publicly-owned or not, it can sponsor several events for children (i.e., exhibits by and for children, classes in creating art, artistic performances, an exhibition on childhood based upon adult-created art).

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Organizing a free clinic once (or  more) a year: 
Offer a once-a-year Free Clinic which provides impoverished children with a dental check up (and dental work, if needed), an eye exam and free glasses, sex education, pre-natal examination, information on infant nutrition and parenting skills, immunizations, etc.

The local Health Department may orchestrate a collaborative effort between health care providers in the community which results in benefiting children and families in need in the community. This effort acts to insulate the recipients from the negative influences of their impoverished surroundings.

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Offering a free, impoverished youth-oriented library program:
The local library could sponsor and hold events for impoverished families, build a collection of gang and youth violence materials, offer Internet training and access for interested youth, provide mobile services to meet an impoverished neighborhood's literary needs, and offer a program through which illiterate adults may learn to read. All of these are insulators against gangs and youth violence.

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Offering a free day at the zoo:
Does your community have a zoo? If it does, and it's owned or even partially supported by local government, have the zoo declare free admission one day a year (or more). Then work collaboratively with the community's school system to have school buses pick up families in impoverished neighborhoods and bring them to the zoo. The purpose of this, and similar free events, is to involve people in need - to make them a part of the fabric of the community.

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Providing park programs for impoverished youth:
Perhaps your community has city/county parks, pools, or golf courses. Could they be encouraged to admit impoverished youth for some healthy, interesting, and enjoyable activity? Perhaps there's something a local faith institution or business could do to partner with the Park Board in sponsoring (paying for) an activity.

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Creating a special Office of Youth Concerns:
Create a position in an established agency or new office/agency which oversees programs and services in the community that address the needs of local youth. An Office of Youth Concerns could:

Create campaigns which keep the community's eye on issues affecting local youth and the quality of life they are experiencing. Kansas City's Partnership for Children is an example of such an effort.

Prepare an annual report card on the quality of life of the community's children. Included would be statistics on how many children were abused, the number of teens giving birth, spousal abuse statistics, the number of juveniles detained by the police and in detention, truancy and school drop out rates, infant mortality rates, etc.

Not only does the report card keep the community informed, it may act as a catalyst for community action. The statistics gathered may also be used for preparing grants, making a case for expanding existing services or developing new ones, and by legislators attempting to pass new laws.

In conjunction with other social agencies and individuals, it could facilitate the identification of gaps in services for youth and assist in filling those gaps (i.e., help in conducting needs assessments, assistance in writing grants). This is part and parcel of a risk/protective factor approach to creating a positive environment for youth.

Facilitate the process of collaboration between youth-serving agencies and in the coordination of their services.  

Create a printed and on-line directory of youth-serving agencies and services available for all youth in our community (including those which address issues of youth violence and gangs).

Coordinate collegiate service learning activities of all area students who wish to intern in a youth-serving agency.

Participate in and/or lead collaborative efforts to obtain grants to support and expand services provided by existing agencies and develop new agencies, if needed.

Pursue creative and lucrative avenues for generating funds from both the public and private sectors (perhaps develop a product or service which could generate funds, introduce a proposal to attach a fee to divorce filings and court fines, etc.).

Facilitate lobbying for substantial funding increases to youth- serving agencies in order to replace or offset the cumbersome and time consuming efforts involved in writing grants.

bulletCreating an Adopt an Agency Program:
Create an Adopt an Agency Program which solicits from local youth-serving agencies their list of needs. Then solicit for volunteers and match their interests with the needs of the agencies. By adopting an agency, the volunteer agrees to provide assistance for an agreed upon period of time (a year, two years, etc.). The agencies then know they can count on the volunteer for more than a one-shot contribution (unless that's all they wanted in the first place). 

Individuals, social organizations, clubs, businesses and business organizations, faith institutions, and schools (or certain student clubs or classes in them) can adopt agencies. Their volunteer efforts, organized by the Adopt an Agency Program, should go far in extending the reach and impact of the youth-serving agencies they support.

Assisting in Grant Writing and Funding Efforts

Various agencies within government, and certain government employees, possess valuable grant writing skills. The sharing of these skills with local youth-serving agencies is a significant and promising strategy. It should be emphasized that many agencies dealing with gangs and youth violence are struggling to maintain their current level of service. They need and want to expand but in a resource-poor environment this can not be done effectively. Increases in funding, including grants, are badly needed as are the skills of government employed grant writers.

Government offices are also a potential source of limited funding and are familiar with other sources of funding of interest to youth-serving agencies.

bulletHolding seminars on grant writing:
Government can play a significant role in teaching grant writing skills to youth-serving agency personnel, identifying sources of grant monies, seeking out and making contacts, and providing assistance in the grant application process.

bulletHolding seminars on funding sources:
Provide youth-serving agencies with information on funding sources, names of parties to contact, and assistance in on-going negotiations with funding sources.

Creating or Modifying Gang- and Violence-Related Legislation

Legislators are of vital importance. Their foresight and concern can result in the creation or modification of procedures and laws which have the potential of reducing gang activity and youth violence. Related strategies include keeping area legislators and judges attuned to local gang and youth violence activity and concerns and what the community residents and local government agencies and organizations believe would be an appropriate response from the law makers.

Becoming familiar with what other jurisdictions are doing legislatively in regards to youth violence and gangs is another meaningful strategy. Among the newer strategies are the use of boot camps coupled with education and vocational training programs, shock incarceration (usually a term of 120 days in prison, often spent in substance abuse treatment), enhanced penalties for individuals convicted of gang-related crimes, teen courts, and the use of drug courts. Needless to say, making all youth aware of the legal consequences of unacceptable behavior is a helpful strategy. The following are other legislative solutions.

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Supporting the creation and approval of a renewable four-year youth development tax:
This tax is dedicated to the support and expansion of youth programming. Develop a clearly articulated campaign of information well before voting day complete with an easily understood plan for supporting and/ or expanding existing youth-services and creating new ones, if needed. Once the tax has passed, evaluate progress in reducing gang activity and youth violence in order to determine if the tax needs to be renewed and, if so, what additional funds will be used for.

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Using code violations and municipal ordinances to bring about social change:
By imposing code regulations and municipal ordinances, local government can help clean up an impoverished neighborhood, remove undesirable residents, and make the neighborhood a safer and more attractive environment in which to live and raise children.

Violations of fire, electrical, plumbing, and structural codes may either have an abandoned or poorly maintained property repaired or removed. If a resident (owner or renter) has done something, or failed to do something (like maintain the lawn) to his or her property which violates zoning regulations, imposition of those regulations can rectify the situation, calm community concerns, and make a statement that the residents of the neighborhood insist on certain rules being followed. Contact the local Zoning and Planning office to determine if the irritating situation is, in fact, a violation of the code.

There are other solutions, to be sure. Every community is different - with different government agencies and different gang- and youth violence issues. A closer look at government resources in the community may suggest additional solutions for the problems the community is experiencing.

The next section deals with justice system-based solutions including those which may be facilitated through legislation, law enforcement, the courts, probation and parole, and corrections.

Next

Additional Resources: If you are seeking grant monies, here's a very useful guide for writing a grant which was prepared by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Here's a guide on Developing a Grant Proposal from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Grant Writing: A Best Practice Guide was developed by the International Association of Police.

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.