Gangs: Problems and Answers
Matt Friedrichs
Poverty & Prejudice: Gang Intervention and Rehabilitation

The Problem

Gangs are obviously not a new phenomenon, but they are still a problem that has to be addressed. Criminal street gangs have become one of the most serious crime problems in California. Gang violence--particularly assaults, drive-by shootings, homicides, and brutal home-invasion robberies--accounts for one of the largest, single, personal threats to public safety in this state.

The Department of Justice estimates there may be as many as 175,000 to 200,000 gang members in California. These figures are approximations because there is no statewide, centralized repository of gang-related information to accurately measure the number of gang members in California. However, these figures represent an approximate 230 to 280 percent increase over the past 11 years when former Attorney General George Deukmejian's Youth Gang Task Force estimated 52,400 gang members in the state during 1981. The Youth Gang Task Force figures were based on a series of hearings held throughout the state in 1981.

The following estimations are based on a 1991 telephone survey done by the Department of Justice of California law enforcement gang units. The survey indicated approximately 50,000 gang members in California, were exclusive to Los Angeles County. In addition to this report a May 1992 report by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office indicated there are 125-130,000 gang members on file in the in the combined databases for Los Angeles County," which included "roughly 5,000 duplicate names." The same report estimated there are "20-25,000 gang members active in Los Angeles County who have not yet shown up in any gang databases." During the last five years, there were over 23,000 verified violent gang crimes in the City of Los Angeles. These include 784 homicides, nearly 12,000 felony assaults, approximately 10,000 robberies and just fewer than 500 rapes. In the last few years the City of Los Angeles has experienced an epidemic of youth violence that is rapidly spreading from the inner cities to the suburbs. Gangs are no longer just the problem of those who live in the crime ridden neighborhoods where the gangs thrive, they are now everyone's problem. Along with the violence that comes from gangs, there are also other economic costs of gangs. The economic impact on the criminal justice system and the public attributed to gangs in California may total $1 billion per year at the present time. The following indicators provide some insight into the vast costs known to be associated with gangs in California. A study is being conducted by two doctors at the University of Southern California Medical Center in Los Angeles concerning the costs of medical treatment related to gang violence in Los Angeles County. Their findings indicate direct medical costs pertaining to gang violence may have reached $23 1 million in Los Angeles County during 1991, and indirect costs may total approximately $540 million for the same period. Gang suppression funding for local agencies from the Office of Criminal Justice Planning amounted to $7,161,560 for fiscal year 1989/1990. The following projects were funded:

Narcotic Prevention $ 295,000

Community Mobilization $ 629,000

Gang Prevention $ 986,946

Prosecution $1,060,473

Probation $1,107,214

Law Enforcement $1,312,061

Education $1,770,866

Another pilot program, the Gang Risk Intervention Program (GRIP), is a gang prevention and intervention project in the Los Angeles County school system. The $1 million for this program comes from asset forfeiture.

The state and counties are spending large sums of money to keep gang members and their associates in correctional facilities. The California Youth Authority indicates that as of January 30, 1992, there were 5,098 gang members or associates in their facilities. It costs approximately $31,370 to keep a youth in the facility for one year; and the financial expenditures to keep 5,098 inmates for a year are approximately $160,000,000.

There are 1,272 validated gang members and associates within the California Department of Corrections system. It costs approximately $20,730 to keep an inmate in the system for one year; and the yearly expenditures for 1,272 gang members and associates are approximately $26,000,000.

There are approximately 7,000 gang members and associates out of approximately 20,000 inmates in the Los Angeles County Jail at any one time. It costs $38.25 a day to keep a prisoner in the county jail. The daily cost for 7,000 gang members and associates is approximately $267,750; and the yearly financial expenditures are approximately $98,000,000.

These are only some of the costs affecting the gang situation in California. By the year 2000, expenditures associated with the gang problem in California could possibly grow to

several billion dollars.

Causes of Gang Involvement

We have the problem, but now a solution is needed. To find a solution, we need to look at the causes of gang involvement. There are different reasons for different kids, but the following is a list of some of the possible reasons why kids would join a gang. Youth join gangs because:

The above reasons include a lot, but not all, of the contributing factors of gang involvement. Now that the reasons have been established, ways to combat these need to be found. Ways to combat these reasons falls under the category of prevention.


The Home

Parents must be educated on how to spot the signs of gang association, and how to work with their children to make gangs seem less glamorous. Parents must teach their children that joining a gang can ruin lives; lead to criminal records; and, ultimately, to prison. Most importantly, parents need to recognize the signs that their child is involved in a gang and seek the appropriate intervention.

Families need help to deal with their children who are at risk of joining gangs. Training in parental skills gives these parents the knowledge and ability to help their children stay out of trouble. Parents often tend to react strongly to the gang problem; therefore, the information provided to them must be balanced with helpful, hopeful strategies that they can use to turn their children away from gangs. Most law enforcement, school, and community-based providers agree that educating parents about gangs is necessary and critical if the growth of gangs is to be curbed. Law enforcement and educators need to work together to develop the necessary tools and materials to educate parents.

The School

California schools have been active in gang prevention for many years. In an attempt to keep gang problems under control, school programs focus on identifying gang members, removing graffiti, resolving potential conflicts among gang members, and providing parents with information on gangs. Many schools today have strict dress codes to prevent the wearing of gang colors. Schools have also increased security and closed their campuses to limit gang members from recruiting students. In some instances, schools use metal detectors to screen weapons at outdoor stadiums and after-school sporting events.

Since the mid-1980s, schools have received anti-drug abuse funding, which has allowed them to implement Kindergarten through 12th grade drug-abuse prevention curricula. This drug-abuse prevention program is known as DARE. DARE America started in Los Angeles in 1983 and has grown into a $230 million operation conducting courses in all 50 states and in 44 countries. As stated in the DARE overview, its goals are to:

Also, many school and law enforcement partnerships have been formed in response to the increase in school crime. The role of police on school campuses has changed over the years. Their presence on school campuses often includes involvement in student development rather than just a response to "trouble." This involvement is known as the Jeopardy Program. This is a gang prevention program for boys and girls ages 8 through 17 and their parents. The goals of jeopardy are as follows:

The police officer's role also includes prevention; and in many schools, The

Jeopardy Program accomplishes these goals by six different ways. The first strategy is identifying the children that need help. After this, the next step is to notify their parents and hold a family interview. Referring families to local community counseling agencies is the third step of this program. The fourth step is to hold monthly family seminars. The fifth step is that the program offers alternative activities to the child that the child selects. The final step is that the student is monitored monthly for at least one year.

Another tactic in the prevention of gang involvement is having alternative activities for kids to participate in. This will attack the boredom that leads to kids having nothing better to do, but to join gangs. One such program that focuses on this is called DARE + PLUS (Play and Learn Under Supervision). This is an after-school program that gives middle school students positive alternatives to just "hanging out" with their friends. It was started in 1993 and is an extension of the DARE program. Another program that has been growing is the Police Activity League (PAL). This program uses educational, athletic and other recreational activities to establish a relationship between kids and cops, while also giving the kids something better to do. Studies done have shown that when kids respect police officers on the ball field or gym, they are more likely to respect in the neighborhoods and business community.


In the past communities have joined forces with police in an expression of intolerance against drugs. This same attitude is now held for gangs. In 1987, gang prevention programs were given a boost when state funding for gang violence suppression was augmented with state drug prevention dollars. Under the Office of Criminal Justice Planning, funds were made available throughout the state for drug and gang prevention and suppression programs at the community level. This included funding for planning and coordination task forces. This kind of involvement is important in the community because it keeps the communities and neighborhoods free of gangs, therefore keeping gangs out of the view of the children. In addition, the community- directed gang prevention effort underwent a change because of the federal "War on Drugs." Community outreach programs, whose goals were to resolve conflict among gangs and to help kids get out of gangs, began coordinating with anti-drug programs targeting similar high-risk youths. Getting kids out of gangs brings on the next topic of reducing gang involvement, which is intervention.


Intervention is a very big part of reducing gang involvement. Father Gregory J. Boyle, S.J.; Delores Mission, East Los Angeles stressed the importance of intervention because without it gang involvement will only reduce to a certain point. Father Boyle explained this very clearly. He commented that intervention is not focused on enough. The definition of intervention, as defined by Father Boyle, is working with the 14-25 year olds that are already in gangs and trying to get them out of gangs. The reason intervention is so important is that when kids grow up they will see all the people in gangs. The people in these gangs might be people these kids look up to, like brothers or other relatives. If better intervention programs are set up then hopefully, gang members will take advantage of their opportunity and quit being involved with gangs. When gang members start leaving their gangs kids will see what is going on, will see how the gang hurt that individual's potential for success, and will decide that gang involvement is not so glamorous and cool. This whole idea reminds me of the movie "Colors" which is about the battle between Bloods, Crips, and a Hispanic gang. In this movie a cop (Robert Duvall) asks the leader of the Hispanic gang if he wants his little brother to grow and join a gang. The leader of the gang comments that he does not want his brother growing up to be like him, because of what has happened to him. The thing about this is that the little brother looks up to his brother and wants to be like him. In the movie the little ends up becoming a gang member just like his older brother. Even though it is fiction, could this kid been saved if somehow his brother had a way out of the gang. Father Boyle works with the idea of intervention by getting jobs for gang members. He sets rules that they have to abide by to keep their jobs, which includes no gang banging and other gang related activities. He is trying to restore something that most gang members have lost, which is hope.


Enforcement is the thing that has been focused on the most by police and the government. It is something that community members want to see most from there law enforcement agencies. In the early 1970's, LAPD developed CRASH Unit (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums), a specially trained police unit who focus their enforcement effort on the criminal street gang problem. This program involves police presence and deters street gang activity.

Community Law Enforcement Area Recovery (C.L.E.A.R.), launched in November 1996, as part of the President's Anti-Gang Initiative (AGI) funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) of the Department of Justice. The C.L.E.A.R. program is designed to coordinate the strategies and co-locate the resources of participating agencies to combat gang crime in Los Angeles. During the first six months that the C.L.E.A.R. program was fully operational, gang related violent crime decreased by 39 percent in the targeted area, and 35 percent in the surrounding neighborhoods. Due to the program's success, it was anticipated that by 1998, two additional target areas will be implemented. The Office of the City Attorney formed a Gang Unit in 1986 to combat street-gang crime. The unit is headquartered in the Los Angeles City Hall, with deputies also assigned to the various other offices of the Criminal Branch. The Gang Unit is responsible for securing civil injunctions against targeted gangs and enforcing them by means of civil and criminal sanctions. The Unit is also responsible for the prosecution of cases involving targeted gang members and taggers. Gang Unit attorneys participate in community forums and public hearings to advise on policies and procedures affecting gang violence. Unit attorneys train and advise law enforcement agencies in the investigation of matters handled by the Unit.


As was from the first section statistics gangs are a very dangerous and expensive problem. They are something that needs to be dealt with more because gangs can only get bigger if steps are not taken. Even with implemented programs gangs have still managed to grow through out the years. Most programs have been focused on prevention and enforcement, which is important, but intervention needs to be focused on more. As Father Boyle commented out of the three ways to combat gangs, intervention is the least dealt with, but is equally important, if not more important than the other two tactics.

Works Cited

"Annual Report to the Legislature," California Department of Justice, Bureau of Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence, 1978-1989.

Arthur, Richard and Edsel Erickson, Gangs and Schools, LP Learning Publications, Inc.,


"Combating Gang Activities in Schools," Education Digest, Volume 56, October 1990.

"Gang Information Network Project," U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, February 24, 1992.

"Gangs, Crime, and Violence in Los Angeles," Los Angeles County Sheriff's

Department, Operation Safe Streets, July 1, 1991.

Huff, C. Ronald (Ed), Gangs in America, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, 1990.

"Prosecution of Gangs," Ira Reiner, Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, U.S. Department of Justice, September 1989.

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