Gang Reduction Models

Gang reduction model, as proposed by Klein and Maxson, is important as it focuses on disintegration of gangs or dissuading them from engaging in crime. Reducing gang activities is significant as the intervention makes communities safer. Notably, most gangs may break the law in the course of their lifecycle. On the other hand, some gangs are formed to specifically engage in crime. Klein and Maxson’s model emphasizes on gang prevention, intervention, or suppression as a means for reducing gang activity. These two authors stress on proper research and classification of gangs in order to take the right action. This factor also helps in prioritization when dealing with gangs.

Understandings gang reduction models depends on understanding the term gang. The concept has numerous meanings depending on the usage, the subject and settings among other factors. In criminology, the term may refer to a group of young people who come together to engage in crime, especially through controlling illegal economic activities (Lanier & Henry, 2009). In such cases, groups are associated with unleashing violence to the members of the society or rivals (Lanier & Henry, 2009). The notion may also refer to informal group of people that come together for social reasons. In a work setting, it refers to a group of laborers who are under one supervisor. For the purpose of this paper, the term refers to a group of people who creat a formal or informal group that often engage in illegal activities of varying magnitude. Such a group may control illegal economic activities and often unleash violence to the members of the society or rival groups. In addition, they can engage in such activities as burglary, robbery, and operating illegal drug networks, to name but a few. This paper analyzes gang reduction model suggested by Klein and Maxson in the scope of gang development as a whole.

Overview of Gang Development

Gangs of different ethnicities have been seen throughout US history and all have shown distinct characteristics. Gangs started appearing shortly after the American Revolution. At this time, gangs were dominated by white individuals and no other race or ethnic group could join. Apart from that, gangs were composed majorly of teens and young adults in their early 20s (Cahill & Hayeslip, 2010). In the turn of the 19th century, criminal street gangs started appearing (Hanser & Gomila, 2015). At this period, gangs comprised of Irish immigrants and began appearing in the New York City. These groups majorly caused scuffles in addition to engaging in other criminal activities (Hanser & Gomila, 2015). Among the most prominent gangs formed in this time period, there was The Forty Thieves that had an organized leadership structure (Howell, 2012). Towards 1800, several Mexican gangs had formed in Los Angeles (Howell, 2012). These gangs were of pure race and biased against members of other ethnic groups was a common experience. This issue was followed by formation of Chinese gangs in California comprised of Chinese immigrants that had come in the US during the formation of railroads (Howell, 2012). Individuals in one gang had similar social and economic background, often originated from broken families or those with low income and lack of access to education (Cahill & Hayeslip, 2010). The unit fulfilled many functions to all the members: for instance, providing a sense of belonging, and sometimes, providing sources of livelihood.

From New York City, gang activity spread to other places. Philadelphia was the second to experience criminal gangs’ growth by 1840: these gangs grew rapidly to around 100 by 1870 (Howell, 2012). They were recognized for their level of violence and used murder as a measure of individual and collective roughness. They also became heavy users of drugs, such as laudanum (a blend of alcohol and opium), cocaine and morphine, which further increased levels of criminal activity. The period after 1865 saw unprecedented increase of criminal street gangs (Howell, 2012). Various ethnic groups, such as Italians, Jewish, African-American and Irish gangs were reported in various cities. One notable characteristic of these gangs is that they were constituted of immigrants mainly. With time, these gangs became more violent and specialized in committing organized crimes: they were majorly based in the New York City.

The turn of the 20th century recorded not experienced before population increment in the US and around the world, which further enhanced increase in gang activities (Relf & Mitchell, 2014). Chicago recorded the highest number of gangs: the city had about 1,300 with over 25,000 members in 1900 (Relf & Mitchell, 2014). All major ethnicities in the US, including whites, were participant in gangs, while all of them did not allow mixed ethnicities. There was increase in turf wars between gangs as they attempted to hold territories. Additionally, it is over this time period that many African Americans living in Los Angeles and other parts of the west coast started to form gangs. These were the areas that previously had been dominated by Mexican gangs. The World War II period was important in the gang history; the war popularized violence making gangs more violent, as a consequence. Among the most important activity of the war period was the confrontation between the military and the Mexican gangs, the crash was later referred to as Zoot Suit War (Howell, 2012).

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The US experienced exponential growth in gang activity in the post-war period, which fueled research into the subject. There was increase in inter-gang fighting in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Philadelphia (Hanser, 2010). The majority of gang members were young teenagers. Additionally, there was proliferation of prison gangs, especially in the late 1950s. Military service men found it hard to reintegrate into civilian life and could often form gangs, especially motorcycle ones. Both the numbers and the types of gangs continued to increase during the 1960s and the 1970s (Hanser, 2010). By the 1960s, researchers and institutions of higher learning started to conduct research concerning the subject of gang: studies concluded that there was gangs’ presence in 53 US cities, which would grow to 101 in 1970 (Hanser, 2010). The 1960s and 1970s was a period dominated by occult movement and famous gangs, including blood gangs and Crip (Hanser, 2010).
Despite of the improvement in law enforcement efforts against gang activity, gangs have continued to increase. In the 1980s, drug-related gang activities as well as competition between gangs dominated in functioning of these groups. In the 1990s, gangs started migrating from their cities which had an effect of increasing gangs. Hybrid and super-gangs were also formulated and had membership from across gender and race. This was also a period in which deportation of undocumented immigrant gang members to reduce gang activity took place. After 2000, gang culture had become popular across the country. This factor was exacerbated by urban decay, boredom, media, racism, guns, poverty and drug abuse/trade; there were 2,000,000 gang members by 2000 (Hanser, 2010).

Throughout the history, gang members have been people who are excluded from the society making it hard for them to access socio-economic opportunities. For instance, Irish gangs in the 18th century were immigrants largely discriminated against by mainstream society; this was also the case with the Chinese railroad workers. Additionally, in the era of the Great Depression, an exponential increase in the number of gangs and gang activity progressed. Poor people and representatives of the lower middle class fell back to poverty and engaged in organized crime to escape reality, earn a living, or relieve frustrations. The second half of the 20th century also saw an increase in the number of unregistered illegal immigrants joining gangs since they could not access legal jobs.

The Efficiency of Research and Gang Prevention Strategies

Research is a crucial component of understanding gang development, suppression and reduction of gang activities. This domain also avails information, such as how formation and proliferation of gangs can be minimized, hence enabling communities and law enforcement to suppress gangs and reduce their activities effectively. Klein and Maxson (2001) exemplify the importance of properly researching and understanding the development and types of gangs in order to take the right measures aimed at reducing gang activity.

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To achieve the above objective, it is crucial to understand how gangs are formed and circumstances that fuel this process. Gangs are self-aggregated groups of peers formed by members’ common interests and have distinct leadership, including clearly defined chain of command. Gangs are products of disorderly communities: disorganization makes potential gang members to seek ways to organize their lives (Curry, Decker, & Pyrooz, 2014). They are driven by a common goal which may include crime and/or regulation of trade, facilities or territory, and lead to increase in criminal activities. This issue raises a need for institutions of learning to ensure society in general and law enforcement in particular is able to develop the means of countering them. This factor can include degeneration of violent gangs or encouraging/empowering members to avoid engaging in crime.
Klein and Maxson (2001) emphasize on clear distinctions of various types of gangs and use of appropriate action to reduce their criminal activities. Noteworthy, different organizations may have diverse definition of gangs. Some law enforcement teams view gangs as groups of coordinated thugs. While this definition may be suitable in some instances, not all gangs are made up of criminals. This is despite the fact that a good number of gangs can commit crime, either as the group or individuals within such groups. Conversely, law enforcement maintains a policy that focuses on suppression of all gangs.

Since gang development is caused by a combination of many factors, reducing gang activity need many approaches at a time. As opposed to different types of gangs, such as crime groups, terrorists, motorcycle gangs, satanic cults and stoners etcetera, Klein and Maxson’s model was proposed for street gangs. Street gangs are mostly identified by showing territoriality, participation of both sexes and varied criminal tendencies. Other forms of gangs specialize in specific crimes often following distinctive patterns (Klein & Maxson, 2001). Street gangs specialize in inter-gang rivalries with other street gangs. They may also form temporary alliances to form super gangs, but individual gangs cannot lose their identity (Klein & Maxson, 2001).

Street gangs are descriptively different from other gangs since they do not principally identify with crime though they may transition into criminal gangs. There is a threshold beyond which a street gang becomes a criminal gang when a street gang starts viewing crime as being central to its identity. Otherwise, street gangs are only slightly criminal, while criminal gangs are formed to commit crime. The sole purpose of distinguishing these gangs is to establish the best means of countering each category (Bushway & Weisburd, 2005). 260 gang experts from the police departments affirmed that there was a need to understand the type of gangs to take the right measures against them (Klein & Maxson, 2001).

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Gang Reduction- Prevention, Intervention and Suppression

According to Klein and Maxson (2001), understanding and classification of gangs is central to reduction of their activities. However, preventing the formation of violent gangs or transition of street gangs to criminal gangs is also given a great significance. Since gangs’ members are usually socially or economically marginalized groups of the American society, there is a need to ensure there are equal opportunities for all (Bracken, Deane & Morrissette, 2009). As seen earlier, gangs were composed majorly of immigrants or socially vulnerable groups, such as retired military personnel. There is a necessity to ensure that all groups can be integrated in communities effectively. For young, wannabe gang members in schools and neighborhoods, intervention may involve strict enforcing the laws against criminal activities they engage in (Capozzoli & McVey, 2000). Thus, the gang may either collapse or refrain from engaging in crime. These groups may engage in activities, such as bullying and crack distribution, and try to copy more established gangs (Capozzoli & McVey, 2000). Usually, their primary reason for aggregation is not crime. Police have reported success by focusing on the crime committed than the gangs themselves (Capozzoli & McVey, 2000). Gang suppression models, involving arrest of criminal members and police/school coordination, were found effective in reducing belligerent behavior among such groups. For crack distribution groups, police registered significant success by implementing strict crack control measures. In contrast, established gangs posed the greatest challenge to suppress. These gangs could have existed for a long time and whether street or criminal gangs, they had developed significant leaning towards crime (Hoffman, Knox & Cohen, 2011). Crime suppression and police/school coordination did not reduce criminal activities among these groups. Police tried coordinating with communities to find how to counter these groups (Curry et al., 2014).

Klein and Maxson (2001) suggest that police should invest in understanding gangs in order to establish which gangs to preferentially eliminate. Although all gangs may break the law at some point, the extent varies. Some street gangs are formed only to create a common identity, engage in activities, such as break dance or relaxing together. Conversely, there are some gangs that invest much time and resources in planning and executing crimes. In the latter group, unlawful acts are very common and most of them are of violent nature. In studies conducted with the help of data collected by the law enforcement, the former group of gangs majorly engaged in crimes, such as petty thefts, break-ins, public disorder, possession, and use of illegal drugs. Additionally, their engagement in these activities was uncommon and unstructured. The second group engaged in violent crimes, including homicides, robbery, rape, and burglary among others. Klein and Maxson (2001) note that law enforcement agencies invested more in intelligence so as to identify presence of gangs and eliminate them rather than classify them. This could only lead to use of scarce resources at disposal to crack down and arrest people that may not readily engage in any violent crimes. Instead, it could be more prudent to preferentially for police to arrest and prosecute criminal gang members.

For the purpose of prioritization and efficient utilization of scarce resources, Klein and Maxson (2001) propose a model in which criminal gangs are first studied and well classified. After this, the required priority can be given to the most violent gangs and the ones that are most criminally active. Concerning the best way to deal with gangs, Klein and Maxson’s model does not focus on a single approach but a combination of several approaches. However, the selection and the use of each approach are based on understanding of each gang, its structure, history and its propensity to commit crimes. For new gangs, which are not formulated for criminal purposes, focusing on the each crime committed and punishing it is important in deterring other members from attempting the same accordingly. Additionally, school/police cooperation can be important in ensuring such gang members who are usually young are natured that they can change their attitudes.

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For established criminal gangs, concerted efforts from law enforcement and community are needed (Gebo & Bond, 2012). The police can arrest and prosecute those found committing crimes, while the communities engage in addressing the root cause of the problem (Miller & Hess, 2002). For instance, communities can work to ensure that marginalized groups are given access to social and economic opportunities (Bracken, Deane & Morrissette, 2009). Gangs can be encouraged to shift from crime and engage in activities, such as break dance, music and sports, among others.

The model proposed by Klein and Maxson (2001) is effective, to a significant extent, especially as it concerns dealing with gangs. Understanding and classification of gangs is important as this approach allows avoiding the criminalization of groups that are not necessarily criminal in nature but which break the law in some instances. This factor is important as it separates the group from crimes committed by some members. As evidenced previously, reduction of illegal gang activity depends on the identification of criminal groups. At the same time, nascent gangs composed of wannabes or turf gangs can be countered effectively using such means as school/police coordination (Howell & Lynch, 2000). In cases when these gangs are engaged in non-violent crimes, such as possession and use of drugs, handling the crimes committed can be an adequate measure of reducing their illegal activities. In other instances, when gangs are engaged in violent crimes, law enforcement can focus on arresting all the members and using the necessary legal frameworks formulated to deal with gangs.

Conversely, Klein and Maxson’s (2001) model is also complicated because it requires much investment in trying to understand gangs before efforts are made to counter them. Due to the fact that most of gangs commit crimes at some point, even of small magnitude, law enforcement may not have the necessary time to observe and study a gang to find out if it turns violent (Siegel, 2015). In other ways, even gangs that start as non-violent street gangs can become violent and increase the intensity and frequency of their crime. This factor makes law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for any group that may engage in any crime and take the necessary action to deter development of such groups. In all these instances, police may be time-constrained to study gangs, which limits the use of the model proposed by Klein and Maxson (2001).

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Gangs exist in many cities in the US as well as elsewhere in the world. Law enforcement, researchers and communities at large have to find ways through which gang activities can be reduced. In this respect, Klein and Maxson (2001) introduce the model that can be utilized to stop, prevent or even suppress gang activity. In light of this model, the two authors justify the need for proper analysis and classification of gangs in order to take the appropriate measures against each group. This issue is important as it can inform the choice of steps taken to counter the effects of every gang. Apart from that, it is necessary to establish which group or number of groups takes which action. As evidenced in the paper, specific gangs behave and respond differently to various measures. On the other hand, nearly all gangs break the law at some point; it is only the scale of this impact that differs. In other instances, some gangs that begin as street gangs may transit into violent criminal gangs, with strong inclination to violent crimes.

As a consequence, law enforcement agencies and other relevant stakeholders may be unwilling to take time and study a gang due to the fear that it could transition into violent criminal gang. Communities, schools and law enforcement agencies can make sure that all groups are an integral part of the society’s social and economic life. At the same time, law enforcement agencies can ensure that offenders face lawful and proportionate punishment. For prioritization in the use of scarce resources, Klein and Maxson’s model can be utilized to reduce gangs and their activities, whenever other factors are allowing.

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