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 2:
Building Coalitions: 
The Need for Cooperation and Coordination

Arrest, prosecution, imprisonment, and close supervision of gang youth are insufficient ... unless joined with other community-oriented strategies to achieve long-term impact on the problem. This means that community-based agencies and local groups must accept and collaborate with criminal justice agencies in patrol, surveillance, and certain information-sharing under conditions that protect both youth and the community. Police, prosecution, and other criminal justice agencies must develop a variety of social intervention, opportunities, prevention, and community involvement programs to supplement their primary goal of suppressing gang crime. (Kane, 1992, page)


To collaborate: "to work jointly with others or together; to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected."
(Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Because youth violence is a community problem, it is not a problem that either law enforcement, families, schools, human services, or community agencies can remedy alone. All members of the community (agencies and individuals) must work together in a coordinated effort to reduce gang activity and youth violence. Too often individuals and agencies work independently, sometimes even at odds with one another, as they compete for limited resources to accomplish their goals. The consequences of this competition have been less than desirable. 

Currently there are numerous family, drug counseling, remedial education programs, etc., in existence in gang impacted communities. Unfortunately, many of these programs are so fragmented as to be almost useless. (Jackson and McBride, 2000, p. 16) 

Community leaders should be at the forefront of bringing the issue of collaboration to their community's attention. Collaboration requires that independent agencies figuratively join together in order to accomplish a specific goal. In this case, the goal is to bring a concerted effort to reducing gangs activity and youth violence. Each agency has something to offer and, together and working cooperatively, their efforts are magnified. At least that's the hope.

Partnerships aren’t a luxury, they’re essential because the problems are too big and too complex. (Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health, 1998, page)

Community leaders have the ability to convene community forums (to be discussed briefly), call on existing groups to assist in the effort, or form a council or task force that devotes its attention to gang activity and youth violence.  The leaders need to encourage communities to focus on their youth, look at the resources they have available and the resources they need to develop, and select strategies that would best serve local youth given the community's needs, history, and culture.

There are many ways to go about developing a coalition. The following Steps to Developing a Collaborative Effort is a compendium of several of the best ideas I've found.

Steps to Developing a Collaborative Effort

It's the age of communication and we're not communicating!

Step 1: Gather local data on gang activity and youth violence. This may be obtained from police, newspaper accounts, juvenile officers, probation and parole officers, and school administrators.  How much gang activity and youth violence is there, where is it occurring, what is the nature of that activity, what is being done about the problem, and what is not being done about it? 

Organize your findings and prepare a way of sharing them with those who attend the meeting that is going to be held (see Step 2). Additional information on the gang situation may also be revealed at the meeting. 

Step 2: Get a small group of people together. They should be representative of the agencies and organizations in your community with an interest in serving local youth. It may also include representatives from the neighborhoods in which most of the gang activity and youth violence is taking place. It doesn't have to be a large group. In fact, a small group may be able to do more things more quickly.

At the meeting, define the presenting problem (the findings on gangs activity and youth violence) and its impact on the community. If presented properly, the data should move everyone to take action. The goal is for them to take collaborative action.

What is needed? A discussion should take place as to what is needed to reduce gang activity and youth violence. Some of those needs are likely to reflect what you read in Why Gangs Form. Others may be unique to your community. Knowing what the problem is and what is needed, the group can not identify what needs to be done to reduce the gang activity and youth violence.

Identify key stakeholders. Identify the individuals, agencies, and organizations in town that are best able to provide that which is needed to reduce the gang activity and youth violence and who are the people who are most affected by the problem. 

Step 3: Convene the first coalition meeting. It's time for the stakeholders and original members to meet. The purpose of this meeting, one of several which are sure to follow, is to share the findings and the vision of what is needed to reduce gang activity and youth violence in the community (or affected neighborhoods). Include the mayor, district representatives, the juvenile judge, chief prosecutor, and Chief of police. Not only may they be forthcoming in giving you some good ideas, you'll need their support later as you Identify individuals and organizations to participate in the next meeting. 

Everyone present should be aware of the signs of gang activity and the extent of youth violence in the community. A community unaware of a problem will not respond well to efforts to reduce it.

Although there may be turf issues between agencies or organizations represented at the meeting, these need to be recognized and overcome for the long-term welfare of the community and its children. Consensus building is key - everyone should leave the meeting with a clear notion of the problem and the need for agencies to work together to solve the problem.

No agency or organization alone can deal appropriately with the problem of youth gang crime. Only a comprehensive community-based approach involving other community-based, criminal justice, and grassroots organizations interested in both preventing and controlling youth gang crime, including gang-related violence, holds promise of effectiveness. (Spergel, 1990, page)

Step 4: Begin strategic planning: 

A. Take an Inventory of Community/Youth Needs:
Achieving collaboration is a process, and the process usually begins by taking an inventory of community needs. One of the most effective approaches being used today is the risk and protective factor approach which identifies the risks youths face and assesses whether the factors needed to protect them from those risks exist in the community or not.

B. Discuss Possible Courses of Action
Once the needs are known, determine what the best course of action may be to address those needs.

C. Develop a Coordinated Plan: 
A plan of action is then developed, goals are established (i.e., reducing assaults in the schools, reducing the number of gang members in the community, expanding existing services, reducing the amount of graffiti in the neighborhood, increasing school attendance, lowering the dropout rate, finding summer employment for local youth, raising additional funds), and human, financial, and material resources are allocated. Coordination of collaborative efforts and of the services or programs to be provided is paramount if the endeavor is to be successful. 

Step 5. Implement the Plan: The plan is then implemented and a previously-designated coordinator of the plan makes sure all aspects of the plan are implemented correctly. Youth violence and gangs are recurring problems, so the plan should build in continued momentum over the long-term. If reducing the number of dropouts from the schools is a goal, for example, then each year the goal is increased and the effort attempts to continually lower the dropout rate.

Step 6. Assess the Outcome and Carry On

Did the plan work? Are dropout rates coming down? Is there less graffiti? Assessment of the outcomes will provide feedback needed to continue, expand, or modify the plan because the desired goals are not being achieved. Address failures and celebrate successes no matter how large or small they may be. 

A useful and practical guide for building coalitions is available from the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (see Chapter 2). If you're serious about wanting to build a coalition, it's worth the small purchase price. 

Building coalitions and getting agencies and organizations to collaborate with one another is not an easy task. It may require more time than you had anticipated. My only advice would be to be patient and continue working toward your goal. The welfare of your community's children is worth the struggle.

An Ideal Structure for Cooperation and Coordination

In an ideal world - and in a community which has accepted there is a gang situation which must be addressed - each social institution ( schools, faith and business communities, health care, government, media, and justice system) would have a specialist responsible for gathering gang activity and youth violence data. They would bring the information they have to the coalition meeting described above and to meetings of a community task force or community forum on gangs and youth violence.

Schools, Faith, Business, Health Care, and Government: The school representative would access to information on the concerns of students, parents, teachers, and administrators relative to gangs and youth violence. Likewise, the faith community, business, health care, and government representatives have concerns to share and would be able to provide insight, guidance, and resources at the coalition meeting.

Mass Media: The media (print and broadcast) would have at least one reporter or anchor who is interested in the subject of gang activity and youth violence. By participating in the coalition meeting the media representative would be able to inform the entire community as to what is happening in town and provide accurate and timely information as a result of his or her interaction with the other task force and community forum participants.

Justice System: The police would have a gang specialist or gang unit, prosecutors would have one or two assistant prosecutors who specialize in gang cases, juvenile services (for juveniles) and probation/parole offices (for adults) would have gang specialists with caseloads consisting primarily or exclusively of gang members and all of these specialists would participate in the coalition meeting.

Youth-Serving Agencies: Youth-serving agencies in the community would be represented at the coalition meetings. This includes agencies providing substance abuse intervention, counseling, parenting skills agencies, as well as organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Boys and Girls Club. Each community is unique in what it has to offer and all the youth-serving agencies should be invited to participate in the coalition.

Neighborhood Representatives: Neighborhood association representatives, particularly from neighborhoods most effected by gangs and youth violence, would have a representative at the coalition meetings.

Having representatives from each social institution in the community, specialists on gangs from each component of the justice system, neighborhood representatives, and representatives from youth-serving agencies meet regularly would allow for a continual flow of information throughout the community. Like I said, it would be the ideal situation. Every sector of the community would know what the other was doing and each would cooperate with the other in coordinating their activities. This increases the potential impact of every action and avoids duplicity.

The next four parts of this chapter deal other ways in which a neighborhood or community may address its gang situation: creating community forums, gang and youth violence task force groups, community-based youth agencies, and the Adopt and Agency program.


Additional Resources: Interested in building a coalition to reduce gang activity in your community? Building Drug-Free Communities can be ordered for just a few dollars from the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, 901 N. Pitt Street, Suite 300, Alexandria, VA, 22314 (Phone: 1-800-54-CADCA or email the agency. Although the publication focuses on building drug-free communities, the coalition building ideas are generic and are quite suitable for use in dealing with gang activity and youth violence.

The California Association of Human Rights Organizations (CAHRO) offers excellent information on the Web regarding difficulties one may encounter when attempting to form coalitions in poverty-stricken residential neighborhoods.

Irving Spergel's Community Mobilization offers helpful advice on Holding Community Meetings/Hearings. Here are two helpful sites: Building Community Collaboration and and Collaboration and Community

Kansas City's (MO) Partnership for Children is a good example of an agency whose sole purpose is to keep the community's eyes on its children.

© 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.