Although there is little doubt that youth gangs have been, and continue to be, present in the United States, the question of how gangs have changed and evolved over the years requires a closer examination. In researching gangs, there are definitional problems about what constitutes a gang and gang activities. However, it is apparent that among all such activities gang related homicide is something that concerns general public the most. Increase in gang related homicide can be fought by a number of measures that are aimed at reduction the spread of youth gangs at large, such as Comprehensive Gang Initiative model, strictly enforcing discipline by school personnel, and the Shop Light investigation method. While it is apparent that juvenile gangs in the United States are spreading faster and faster nowadays, the measures outlined above should be of great help.
There are a number of questions of interest in examining youth gang activity in the United States. Are gangs a threat to contemporary society? What impact do gangs have on the country? How has the country responded politically and socially to gang activity? What is being done to address gang-related problems? How do gangs organize themselves socially? What are the trends toward addressing youth gang problems likely to be in the future? The youth gang problem in the United States has been monumental and widespread. The number of vicinities reporting gang problems showed a considerable increase from the 1970s to the 1990s.
By the late 1990s, 2,550 cities, towns, and villages and 1,150 counties had reported the existence of gang activities. These statistics indicate an almost tenfold rise in the number of cities and an elevenfold growth in the number of counties reporting gang activities during this time (Howell 1999).
Gang members have a very clear understanding of the activities that are required to maintain membership in the gang and to evolve through the ranks. However, a predominant difficulty legislators have in dealing with gangs has been the lack of a clear description of just what constitutes gang-related problems. “One view is that such problems include several similar destructive episodes in a community that cause distress to the public” (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1997). Another author cites several useful definitions of a gang: 1. A group must be involved in a pattern of criminal acts to be considered a youth gang. These groups typically are composed of only juveniles, but may include young adults in their memberships. 2. A criminal street gang refers to three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities. 3. A street gang is a cohesive group with most members between the ages of 11 and 21 that has a recognizable geographical territory (usually demarkated with graffiti), leadership, a purpose, and various levels of organized ongoing criminal activities.
(Langston, 2003) It seems like the definitions and concepts related to youth gangs deny the fact that the more efforts are thrown at fighting gangs at large, the more the chances are that gang related homicides will decrease, as there is no proved direct correlation between the measures taken and reduction of youth crime.
With the introduction of drugs and automatic weapons, gangs have evolved from turf fighting to a much higher level of violence. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (1997) acknowledges that programs geared to fighting gang-related criminal activity must include both crime prevention and crime control schemes to be effective over the long haul. Several effective gang control methods have been developed throughout the United States. The Comprehensive Gang Initiative model was developed as a process for overcoming the obstructions faced by communities in endeavoring to deal with gang-related problems. This model involves principles of adaptability, flexibility, comprehensiveness, a focus on harmful behaviors, continuous problem diagnosis, response coordination, continuous monitoring, and impact evaluation (BJA, 1997). The Dallas Police Department initiated an antigang program that was intended to curtail gang violence. It was found that while forceful curfew and truancy implementation led to significant decline in gang violence, simple dispersion patrol did not (Howell 1999).
Schools can fight gang activity by banning certain items of clothing, weapons, violence, illegal activities and other things related to gang membership. School personnel need to be clear about strictly enforcing discipline. Painting over graffiti and transferring disruptive students who are gang members can be helpful responses to gang action. Prevention and awareness are important to avoiding and curtailing gang activities in the schools. Schools can work together with the community including the local police to reduce and eliminate school related gang activity (Howell 1999). Collaboration, networking, technology, training, and prevention appear to be future-oriented methods of dealing with gang activity. For example, the Institute for Intergovernmental Research maintains databases on a multitude of gang-related publications that relate to schools and communities, a listserv, links to joining professional organizations that collaborate on solving gang-related problems, training links, and funding links.
The Shop Light investigation is a method that law enforcement jurisdictions can use in the fight against drug distribution in gangs. Using the Shop Light investigation, police can survey paraphernalia that store customers buy. During surveillance of customers investigators can decide to follow anyone carrying a box from the store that seems inconsistent with the purchase made.
Typically, members take the package of paraphernalia to the safe house of the gang, where they maintain considerable quantities of drugs, money, weapons, and records. A primary benefit of using this technique is that it provides instant detection of the upper echelon of those who traffic in such illegal drugs. Surveillance of that setting will identify the pecking order of that particular gang (Howell 1999). It may be that “Big Brother” and advanced technology is in the future arsenal of gang suppression activities.
Howell (1999) indicates that prevention and suppression of youth gang homicides should be a main concern in crime strategies in the United States. Youth gang homicides accounted for almost one-fourth of all homicides in Chicago and one-half of those in Los Angeles in 1995. Gang-related homicides have reached epidemic proportions in these and in other major cities. Some of the encouraging gang homicide interventions include using automated information systems to identify gang locations, long-term surveillance of gangs, banning guns, arresting and prosecuting dangerous gang members, collaboration in community policing of gangs, rehabilitation services, early interventions, prevention programs, and program evaluation. It is apparent that a number of measures that help prevent spread of youth gangs at large will also have major effects on prevention of gang related homicide, and all such possible measures should be promoted by both state and non profit bodies.