Troy L. Wheeler
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Strategy Coordinated intervention by the community and law enforcement personnel reduces the likelihood that high-risk youth with become involved . . .
Coordinated intervention by the community and law enforcement personnel reduces the likelihood that high-risk youth with become involved in gangs. Involvement of police agencies, educators, job-training resources, parents, and community groups is essential to success.
Crime Problem Addressed
An estimated 4,881 violent youth gangs with nearly 250,000 members were responsible for 46,359 crimes in 1991. Communities in which gang activity is most prevalent generally have high concentrations of poverty and joblessness and poor coordination of prevention services among local government agencies and community organizations. This strategy addresses those conditions through a comprehensive approach that links the community and government in providing positive opportunities and demonstrating clear consequences for youth at risk for gang involvement.
Programs that use this strategy combine service coordination, partnership between police and the community, suppression of gang activity through coordinated enforcement and prosecution, neighborhood mobilization, and job training for youth. The integrated strategies' chief goal is to reduce gang-related violent crime and youth involvement in gangs. Police, probation personnel, and prosecutors share information about gang activity, diffuse crises that arise from gang conflict, and refer at-risk youth to community-based services. Street outreach through community organizations and parents supplements partnerships among agencies to make well-integrated services available to the youth. Prevention efforts include job training and placement, recreation at safe locations, and mobilization of neighborhood residents and police in identifying community resources that serve youth.
For the strategy to succeed, the police and other enforcement agencies must work together to suppress gang activity by gathering information through community contacts. Also, police, local agencies, and community-based resources must work together to support youth and promote nonviolent activities in the neighborhood. The strategy must involve parents in prevention activities and support parents and other residents concerned about gang-related violence.
Communities beset by gang-related violence may be less inclined to develop stable and effective partnerships with their city's police. Those partnerships must be built through sustained effort and clear policies regarding officers' responsibilities to residents. Residents may also be reluctant to become involved in violence-prevention projects out of fear of the gang. Coordination among police, prosecutors, probation services, social agencies, churches, and other resources helps residents feel comfortable and supported in their involvement.
Signs of Success
Chicago's police department works closely with prosecutors, probation, job-training programs, community agencies, churches, parents, neighbors, and former gang members on the Gang Violence Reduction Program (GVRP). Focused on two gangs in the city's Little Village section, the project serves a community that experienced fifty-three gang-related crimes involving handgun use in the year before the program's inception. The program's primary goal is to reduce gang assaults and homicides on six police beats. It focuses on two hundred youth aged seventeen to twenty-five. The project team meets weekly to share information about gang activity, discuss interventions in gang conflicts, and plan enforcement strategies. Street workers concentrate on building relationships with current and former gang members, often as negotiators of truces among gangs or factions. The Neighbors Against Violence (NAV) group keeps police and prosecutors aware of residents' concerns about gang activity and violence. NAV has recruited block watch groups, church congregations, agencies that serve youth, and parents as members. Probation administrators focus on collaboration with youth-serving agencies and on jobs-development programs.
An evaluation by a University of Chicago researcher revealed that GVRP helped slow the increase in violent gang-related crime in Little Village. Gang homicides declined from fifteen in the year before the program began to seven in each of the two years since its inception. While violent activity of the gangs addressed by GVRP slowed, crime by other area gangs increased after the program began. The program is credited with substantially improved cooperation among police and probation staff who serve the community.
Applying the Strategy
Seattle is one of four cities that participate in a gang-prevention program sponsored by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families and supported by local business taxes. Youth aged twelve to eighteen are offered mentoring, recreation, training in social and life skills, and job placement assistance. Enforcement and suppression components include coordinated efforts by police and probation personnel to track violent offenders, visits to the homes of at-risk youth, job training, and child care for teen parents. Cooperation among the city agencies involved has improved. According to plans, the project will soon provide additional services for parents of gang-involved youth, as well as housing and other aftercare for youth released from a juvenile corrections facility.