How a New York Police Official Targets Thoughts to Fight Crime

When Carlos Jennings got out of prison in 2014, he wanted to kill the person who helped put him there.

“I wasn’t home seven days after doing 10 years in jail, and I’m in the car with somebody else, with a gun in my hand, trying to do something to somebody,” he said.

Reporter’s Notebook: Girls in the System

I knew I didn’t look good, but after a day of ice packs and Netflix, I was getting used to it. The curve of skin where my nose met my face had been cracked open. A bright purple crescent bloomed across my puffy cheek, swooping out from the inner corner of my right eye. “A girl did that to you?” my coworkers asked when I came back to the office, wincing at the sight. “Why?”

It was the same question I’d asked in the emergency room, waiting to find out if my nose was broken, and the same question I tried to answer a year later while reporting a story on girls in the juvenile justice system.

A Sad Truth: In Chicago, The Murder of Hadiya Pendleton, While Tragic and High-Profile, Is Commonplace

Originally appeared in The Chicago Bureau

CHICAGO -  Violence stalks Chicago’s streets, but when faced with staunchly rising homicide rates that show no sign of ebbing, residents’ capacity to tolerate the state of crime drains by the day. After Hadiya Pendleton performed with her high school marching band during the presidential inauguration two weeks ago, the King College Prep teen became Chicago’s 42nd homicide victim of 2013 when she was gunned down on Chicago’s South Side – the unintended victim of a gang dispute. Her death added to a January homicide toll that was the bloodiest since 2002, according to Chicago Police reports, suggesting that despite wide attention to Chicago’s murder woes, shifts in policing strategy and big promises by powerful politicians, there will be no immediate respite to the escalating violence that claimed more than 500 in 2012. The ups and downs of Chicago’s homicide toll over the past six years/Graphic by Lynne Carty/The Chicago Bureau

Perhaps it’s because Pendleton performed for Obama, or maybe because she starred in an anti-gang public service announcement four years ago (Pendleton PSA) pleading for an end to the chaos, but the nation has embraced this 15-year-old as a symbol and not just another statistic. As for those who study crime, who write about it and opine about it in Chicago, the nation’s murder capital, the question remains whether it will really matter:

“There is action because of the attention but it is not clear that it will work,” said University of Illinois at Chicago’s Dick Simpson, a known political expert and former alderman who recently studied the nexus of drugs, gangs and police corruption.

From the Streets to Cyberspace: What are the Links Between Gang Membership and Internet Use?

Gang members may be using the Internet to commit crimes – more so than non-gang members – according to a study published in October by JRSA Forum, the official newsletter of the Justice Research and Statistics Association. The study examined the crossover between gang-associated activities and Internet use. “Gang Offending and Online Behavior,” written by Arizona State University’s Scott H. Decker and Sam Houston State University’s David Pyrooz, involved 585 interviews with current and former gang members in five cities, including Cleveland, Los Angeles and St. Louis. According to the researchers, the average age of the subjects ranged from 25 for current gang members to 28 for ex-gang members, while young people that did not self-identify as gang members reported an average age of 23.

Webinar Examines Sexual Exploitation of Girls by Gangs

CHICAGO-- Although gangs are a chronic problem in many urban and suburban areas of the nation, this city included, certain aspects of gang life don’t receive the attention – and therefore the resources – necessary to combat them. In particular, the sexual exploitation of girls by gangs is a serious problem currently facing law enforcement, courts, educators and social service programs across the country, according to a panel that met this week to discuss the issue. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention presented a webinar Wednesday through the Missing and Exploited Children’s Program to address promising practices for targeting the commercial sexual exploitation of girls in gangs. The webinar built on MECP’s June presentation about exploitation by offering organizations and individuals suggestions for internal practices and appropriate interaction with victims.

“The top thing that sexually abused, victimized girls say they want in treatment and in custody is someone to talk to,” said speaker Keith Burt, a retired deputy district attorney and former Chief of the Gang Prosecution Division in San Diego. “Someone they feel they can trust, that they can just talk to.”

Although the speakers acknowledged males and transgender individuals suffer from sexual exploitation by gangs, the victims are overwhelmingly female.

Westside Norteno 14 in Cobb County. Picture Confiscated during arrest, Sept. 20, 2003.

The Myth of Suburban Gangs: A Changing Demographic

When most people think of gangs and the criminal activity often associated with them problems of the inner-city may come to mind -– issues that are far from their manicured suburban lawns, something that could never touch their lives directly. But the demographic makeup and geographic location of gangs are changing, according to Rebecca Petersen, author of Understanding Contemporary Gangs in America and a Criminal Justice Professor at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta*. “We have seen this trend of gangs moving out of the city and into the suburbs for 20 years now,” Petersen said. “We don’t associate the suburbs with people being poor or homeless, but it’s one of the fastest growing populations [in the suburbs].”

While gangs are not exclusively comprised of low-income members, the correlation between harsh economic conditions and the proliferation of gang activity has been documented in communities around the country since at least the late 1980s. In the decade leading up to 2010, the suburban poor in major-metropolitan suburbs grew by 53 percent, compared to an increase of 23 percent within the cities, according to the Census Bureau.