Reviewing Problems In Gangs Criminology Essay

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For as long as we can imagine there have always been problems with gangs and for as long as we can remember there have always been wrong methods of trying to enforce it by always advocating simply useless policies that manage to do more harm than good. If we as a nation have been doing this for such a long time {we have been tracking gangs and trying to understand them ever since the first identified gang in American history emerged in 1820 in the Five Points District of New York City called the Forty thieves (Allender: 2001)} why have we still not found the perfect policy that will wipe out the gang problem once and for all?

The answer to this question is not always simple. As a matter of fact the problem is that gangs, like living organisms, have their own way of evolving and adapting to certain kinds of situation. When it can't grow or prosper because of something in its way it will do whatever is possible to survive and that is to adapt and evolve. Fear still lingers on for many researchers because they know the more evolved a gang becomes, the harder it is to control and possibly eliminate.

During the process of this review, evolving gangs are just one of the problems concerning contemporary gangs. There are countless of problems that contribute to the gang problem however my review came across some interesting research I think will help paint how street gangs have evolved and just how they've become much more dangerous. In addition to this there are several other research mostly funded by the National Institution of Justice (NIJ) that is worth mentioning in this review. Like for instance we have seen and heard throughout the years of rising female gang members. What are we as a society going to do about it? Before any policy is put to the test researching about it never did anyone any harm. The research on women and gangs will answer the two most basic questions "why do females join gangs" and "what their experiences have been". This particular research is vital for it will give us some insights on the prevention of females joining gangs. And then we go into the minds of gang members and try to understand the mentality of a gang member. This will help explain why most of these gang members resort to violence which will in turn help police better understand gang members. A brief look into the gang related homicides of the 1990's and the different rate of gang homicides between cities shows that although gang related homicides decreased it hid the fact that one city-Los Angeles-accounted for 30 percent of the decrease in the early part of the decade. And then last but certainly not the least a look into two methods that might actually help win the fight against gangs as a whole, its strengths as well as its weakness according to the research that has previously been done in regards to it. The first method involves the use of a task force by the San Diego County since 1988 and the more recent method was in 2007, the California Legislature enacted another pilot program Chapter 244 [1] to try and lessen nuisance caused by "tenants who commit specified weapons and ammunitions offenses on rental property." (Brenneman: 2010)

It must also be added that although the scope of this review is limited the literature and research that was done into this particular issue is not. In fact the literature concerning gangs are very extensive and well documented which is why it presented me with certain problems like for instance trying to choose which journal articles would be appropriate enough to conduct my review on. Furthermore, although this review addresses the issues concerning contemporary gang problems such as its changing patterns and structures, and female involvement it is in no way an attempt to try and criticize past research findings but rather an attempt to try and better understand gangs as a whole. The fact that gangs are such a well documented issue begs the question of whether or not most of the research and literature being done to it is actually valid. All the research included in this review is legit and as I said before most are funded by the NIJ.

Brief Background History

During the past 30 years there have been some changes with the way the police and the public perceived, defined, and discussed gangs. Although the police in the 60's and 70's generally acknowledged the presence of gangs in their communities and jurisdiction at this point in no time it was not seen as a major threat because the problems with Vietnam eclipsed most of the growing problems in the nation. However, the 1980's saw a heightened sense of consciousness about gangs and the problems related with it because now it just became real. Because of an aging population this new heightened sense of consciousness about gangs continued into the 1990's. Several programs were funded by the federal government at this point such as the Operation Weed and Seed and the Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) anti-gang initiative which were bent on trying to control and dismantle gangs. Increased publicity of the subject lead to the enactment of new legislation to deal with the gang problem. As the public's focus shifted from Vietnam to gangs the Media decided to use this opportunity to try and mirror what the audience wanted-more coverage on gang related problems. Because of this the public was pushed into believing that gang activity was happening everywhere even when in certain areas this was not the case. (Allender: 2001)

During this time the rise in gang related crime was attributed to one thing only-the involvement of gangs in the drug trade. By the early 90's gangs were forming full drug networks and were quickly moving from non-profit organization style to a profitable organization that swept basically the whole nation and with Southeast Asia and Columbia being the number one drug importers in the country. As street gangs developed into full blown drug organizations violence became a necessary part of their jobs as gangs spread like wildfire throughout the nation. (Savelli: 2001)

Although crime rates plummeted during this time the thing most noticeable was that gangs were forming at an alarming rate. As the years passed the number of gangs and member's increased and will continue to. Gangs of the new century are without a doubt more intelligent and most importantly more discrete, and most if not all are studying new methods to try and outrun or outmaneuver policies set forth to try and curb their presence.

Are Gangs Evolving?

The initial step into trying to solve the problem with gangs is to determine whether or not it is changing its ways and trying to adapt to more conventional ways of running a drug trade in modern America.

Much of the evidence that portray gangs as evolving into organized crime-like enterprises is anecdotal, meaning that it is mostly from hearsay, most likely suggested by high profile prosecutions. High profile cases such as the 1987 conviction of members of Chicago's El Rukns on terrorism charges, which linked them to another gang from Libya called Moammar Gadhafi, raised some serious concern of the possible transformation of contemporary gangs. The federal response to this new form of "gang" advocated the perception that gangs were in fact becoming highly organized criminal enterprise. As a result of this numerous questions have been raised about gangs. Like for instance "under favorable conditions" gangs can undergo a "natural evolution" from a loosely organized group, as is the case with past gangs, into a mature organization. (Thrasher: 1963) How actually does this happen and how did gangs come to be this way? Are gangs really capable of developing into formal organizations once they become more prevalent? These are some of the questions that arise. Although there is vast literature that suggest that gangs who are successful usually grow larger and more formally organized as time passed the attention has been focused mainly on the ways in which gangs change over time.

Two methods of research was used in this particular research of trying to identify how gangs evolve or change. A nationwide mail of survey of police agencies in 1995 was sent out, and in person interviews with gang members in four gangs in two major cities was done in 1996 and 1997 (Weisel:2002). The two major cities involved were Chicago and San Diego. Among the research issues, this particular study examined was the nature of the organizational structure and the ongoing criminal activity and several types of gangs.

Out of all the gang types, the response from the survey's sent out to police departments with regards to which type is the most typical in their jurisdiction was the delinquent gang. 46% of police said that the most common gang in their areas were delinquent gangs which is made up of primarily juvenile delinquent's. 26% reported that drug dealing gangs (or entrepreneurial gang) as the most common in their jurisdictions while another 28% reported that the most common or typical gang in their communities was the violent gang. (Fagan: 1989) These statistics clearly show how the police view gangs.

Looking at the big picture, quite a few handful of police respondents described their typical gang in their area as a loose knit organization. To be precise 45% said they were mostly loose knit organizations, 47% said they had no formal structure, 50% said they were territorial and 60% said that they were primarily oriented towards crime. Now looking at these numbers, no wonder why gangs are having success eluding police. The numbers tell us that police mentality is that gangs generally aren't capable of becoming organized and having a structural organization. From the police perspective, serious gangs are changing more and more over time in ways that create cast amount of problems for the police and community like for example: 78% of police respondents said serious gangs had grown larger in the past 3 years while another 72 % said that gangs have become significantly more violent. Another important finding is that as members who have grown older have opted to stay a part of the gang, increasing that gang's size. 54% of police reported that the average age for a gang member has increased.

In summarizing these findings one must come to the conclusion that police all agree on one thing-that gangs indeed are growing bigger in numbers, have become exclusively formalized and have been active in different sorts of activities. For this study police have provided a context for examining the evolution of serious gangs from a different perspective-the gang members. The view from gang members as to how organized they really are totally bridges the gap between understanding them from the public's perspective and from their own. For instance although some law enforcement agencies, particularly the FBI, would label San Diego's Latin King's as being highly organized the gang members that were interviewed certainly do not seem to agree.

Like the police respondents, gang members from both cities reported that their gangs are very much involved in criminal activity. They also seem to report much more crime that is associated with their gang than what the police seem to report. So in other words, most of the crimes committed by gangs or are gang related literally go undetected from police.

Women in Street Gangs

This study addressed the issues that dealt with women's involvement in gangs, the reasons for joining and what their experiences have been. The cities of St. Louis and Ohio were chosen as the main focus for these studies. This issue or concern with women in gangs has been fueled not only because of the growing numbers of female activity in gangs but most importantly the growing number of feminist's in criminology. "As more researchers have attempted to understand this phenomenon, feminist scholars have insisted that gender be considered as part of the research equation." (Campbell 1990; Joe and Chesney-Lind 1995; Messerschmidt 1995; Moore 1991) "As a result, more is known about girl's experience within gangs today than at any point in history, including the heyday of gang studies in the 1960's. This study will ultimately answer three basic questions concerning women and gangs. It asks the question of why women join gangs, the extent of their involvement in gang activities and the victimization risks that are associated with the involvement in gangs.

In this particular study young women were found to have begun hanging out with gang members when they were quite young-around age 12 on average-and joined at an average age of 13. 69% of the girls in the sample joined the gang before they reached the age of 14. (Miller: 2001) The reason why females join gangs is because, "the gang represents for its [female] members an idealized collective solution" for addressing the many problems associated with them including limited opportunities in education and the workplace, subordination to men, childcare responsibilities, as well as their "underclassmen" status when compared to men. (Campbell: 1990) The study revealed three main reason why females join gangs in the first place. The first of these reasons is through peers. Females are most often introduced to the gangs in their area through their friends and from then on they start to make their way into the gang. The second reason was family problems. Family problems such as violence and drug abuse which in turn decrease parental influence or supervision led young women to avoid their homes in search for an alternative to meet their social and economic needs. Finally, a lot of young women are led into gangs primarily for the fact that family members are in it particularly older siblings or cousins whom they look up to.

Despite the idea or the assumption that girls involvement in delinquency is the same as boys, studies show that young men are much more involved in the most serious form of gang crime such as murder, robbery and so forth. (Miller: 2001) Approximately 40 percent of the girls in gangs in Fagan's study were involved in only petty delinquency while a third were involved in multiple Index offending, compared to 15 percent and 56 percent for young men. (Fagan: 1990)

In comparing the two cities (Columbus & St. Louis) researched here in this study in how their women differed in regards to involvement in delinquent activities there were no striking variations however the frequency of their involvement in delinquency and drug sales are quite noticeable. For instance, female gang members in Columbus committed 3.5 times more minor delinquency acts, twice the amount of moderate delinquency and just over 3.5 times more serious delinquency in the 6 months prior to being interviewed. Although this shows that the female gang members in Columbus clearly are more delinquent however the females in St. Louis commit more drug related crime. Like for example female gang members in St. Louis had sold drugs 11 times per month in the past 6 months, as compared to like 6 times for girls in Columbus. According to Peterson (2001) recent evidence from a multisite survey indicates that young women in gangs that have a large number of males have higher delinquency rates than other gangs with the equal number of female and male. (Peterson: 2001)

Now we confront the last issue in this study which is the victimization risks that come with the gang membership. According to this study those who are members of gangs are significantly more likely to report having seen physical violence involving weapons and to have been sexually assaulted, threatened with a weapon or stabbed than those who are non-members. Two-thirds of the women from the two cities in gangs had witnessed at least one homicide in their lives and 79 percent had seen someone shot. More than half the gang members from both cities have reported being sexually assaulted and threatened with a weapon and actually a third of them had been stabbed. In addition to these numbers 52percent have reported being sexually assaulted for a total of 35 assaults although most of the women who reported being sexually assaulted were assaulted in the family context and not in the gang.

Gang Mentality

Youth Gang Homicides in the 1990's

Evaluation of a Task Force

Chapter 244