Program Implications

As documented in this analysis, recently formed gangs may not fit the stereotype of traditional gangs in cities with chronic gang problems. Jurisdictions with relatively recent onset of gang activity need to assess their gang problem carefully. Any community that discovers it has a gang problem should develop a continuum of prevention, intervention, and (if needed) suppression strategies. By taking action as soon as a gang problem is discovered, it may be possible to interrupt the gangs’ developmental progression from involvement in general delinquency and property crimes to involvement in serious, violent activities.

A community’s gang problem may begin with school-centered gangs, which, according to surveys of students, tend not to be extensively involved in criminal activity (Howell and Lynch, 2000). School-based prevention programs could be particularly useful in countering the further development of such gangs. A long-term evaluation of the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program, a school-based prevention curriculum, showed an overall beneficial program effect (Esbensen et al., 2001). In communities that have gangs in the early stages of development, it is especially appropriate for prevention programs and social services agencies to intervene at the individual level with the youngest gang members and other at-risk youth (Curry, 2000). The Gang Intervention Through Targeted Outreach program, operated by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, is a promising intervention initiative (Thornberry and Burch, 1997). Even in the early stages of gang development, communities may determine that some gang suppression activities are needed to protect the public. The Tri-Agency Resource Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET) is a good multijurisdictional model that integrates law enforcement, probation, and prosecution efforts (Capizzi, Cook, and Schumacher, 1995). A combination of such strategies may reduce future involvement of adolescents in gangs and impede the development of embryonic gangs.

The National Youth Gang Center (2001a) has developed a protocol that communities can use in assessing their gang problem. The protocol is applicable to communities of all sizes and characteristics. The National Youth Gang Center (2001b) also has prepared a planning guide to assist communities in developing a plan to implement the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Comprehensive Gang Model. The model addresses the youth gang problem through five interrelated strategies: community mobilization; social intervention, including street outreach; provision of opportunities; suppression/social control; and organizational change and development. Based on research and community experiences, the model is multifaceted and multilayered and involves individual youth, families, the gang structure, agencies, and the community. A menu of promising and effective program options is also available (Howell, 2000).

Starbuck and colleagues stress how important it is for law enforcement agencies—both large and small—to understand the continuing changes in the dynamics of gangs (Starbuck, Howell, and Lindquist, 2001). Thus, it is imperative that law enforcement agencies continually update staff training curriculums and monitor the specific gang culture in their own jurisdictions. In addressing gang problems, law enforcement agencies should keep in mind that no single response will work universally. What succeeds in one city may have little effect in another. Each response must be based on an accurate assessment of the local problem, updated intelligence, application of all community resources, and a realistic appraisal of how to gauge success. It is also essential that local efforts to prevent and combat gangs include every available community agency in a comprehensive approach. Without such an approach, efforts to address gang problems are quite likely to meet with frustration.

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Modern-Day Youth Gangs Juvenile Justice Bulletin June 2002