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.

Swimming Pools, Not Prisons

Until I was in the sixth grade my family lived on an Air Force base in South Georgia. The base was a great place for kids. From the time I was six or seven I could ride my bike to wherever I wanted to go. Trips to the movies or the library were a lot of fun, and my parents didn’t have to worry about whether or not I was safe. In the summer my favorite bike ride was to the swimming pool.

Communities are Critical in Aiding Criminal Justice System, Experts Say

NEW YORK – Community was the word on everyone’s lips at the Symposium on Crime in America at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. More police engagement with the community is needed to win the war against gangs, and communities need to be more receptive to those returning from prison, according to experts speaking at the conference. According to FBI data provided by Jeffrey Butts, Director of the John Jay Center on Research and Evaluation, violent crime arrests are at a 30-year low. But "as violence has dropped," Butts said, "arrests for other crimes increased since the 1990s." One reason may be that gangs are still a serious problem across the country and according to Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, gang violence has changed.

Survey of Police Chiefs Shows Need for Police Training to Work with Youth

At a  training of Massachusetts MBTA Training Academy recruits in July, a police officer said to the group, “What I am telling you today we did not get when we were in the academy. Now you’ve got a leg up in dealing with kids by knowing this stuff.” The officer had been trained in a train-the-trainer capacity building effort by Strategies for Youth. “Knowing this stuff about kids makes working with them easier and less stressful and believe me, they can be stressful,” he told the recruits. The newly released findings of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) survey on juvenile justice and youth training needs suggest this officer is both right and unusual. Training in best practices for working with youth is helpful, but remains the exception to the rule across the country. The IACP’s survey, the “2011 Juvenile Justice Training Needs Assessment,” found that police chiefs want training but lack funding and agency resources to provide it to their officers.  They wanted their officers to have the skills to work with the increasing and challenging demands posed by youth.

Disney, Take Beyond Scared Straight Aff the Air

An Open Letter to

Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company

Dear Mr. Iger:

I know Disney is a large company and you, like Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, can’t oversee everything. So I want to let you know about one of your company’s investments -- Disney’s one-third equity stake in the A&E Television Networks. Since it is not fully under Disney’s control, maybe that’s why you haven’t been watching A&E’s "Beyond Scared Straight." Certainly if you had, you would have intervened and pulled it off the air, but alas last week marked the beginning of its second season.

Fighting Gang Violence with Research and Empirical Evidence

ORLANDO, Fla, - Frontline practitioners working on gang prevention, intervention and suppression are gathered this week for the National Gang Symposium in Orlando, Fla. For prevention, think of the Boys & Girls Club. For intervention, think of the Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, whose motto is “nothing stops a bullet like a job.” And for suppression, well, of course, think of the police. The number crunchers from the National Gang Center, using their own just released data, are telling symposium attendees today that gangs remain a substantial problem in the nation. However, gang levels are lower than the peak levels in the mid-1990s, and law enforcement agencies reported gang activity in their jurisdictions at about the same levels for five straight years – all this during a time when overall violence is way down.

Grant Analyzes Gangs For Prevention

The Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of Justice Programs (OJP)are offering the Gang Field Initiated Research and Evaluation Program Grant. This grant hopes to gain more insight into gangs. It hopes to answer how kids get into them, what their involvement is once inside them and how to keep kids away from gang-related crime. It also will try to measure how effective prevention is when it comes to at-risk kids joining the gangs and the effectiveness of the current intervention programs. Another objective of this grant is to understand the nature and scope of the youth gangs currently in the juvenile justice system.

VIDEO: OJJDP Highlights National Gang Survey

In a 2008 study, the National Gang Center reported a 15 percent increase in cities, towns and rural areas that have experienced gang activity since 2002.  For a breakdown of all the numbers, check out the video below.

Suburbs See Largest Increase in Teen Gang Activity

More kids are joining gangs than ever before and reports of gang violence are on the rise.  For the first time, gang activity has been reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, says a report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Suburban areas saw the largest increase in gang activity at 22 percent followed closely by rural communities.  Part of the problem, according to the report, is the lack of gang awareness among community leaders, parents, and school. The report, “Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programs,” says that many kids join gangs for protection, respect, and money, among other reasons.  Gang members exhibit common risk factors that include antisocial behavior, alcohol and drug abuse, and mental health problems.  Almost all gang members were involved in previous delinquent acts. The report also describes prevention and intervention strategies for kids at various levels of gang participation.  Kids at risk for joining gangs should be taught refusal skills while those already in gangs should join intervention programs.

School Crime Data Reveals Safety Concerns for Georgia Children

A new report on school crime and safety shows that students and teachers still have serious concerns in Georgia and across the nation. The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics compiled data from 2008 - 2009 to give us a snapshot of what’s going on in public high schools across the state:

8.2% of Georgia students said they were threatened or injured with a weapon at school
4.2% admitted they carried a weapon to school during the month prior to the survey
11.7% were involved in a physical fight on school grounds
32.9% said drugs were available to them on school property
4.2% admitted using alcohol on school grounds
7,000 teachers (5.8%) said they were threatened with injury by a student
4,900 teachers (4%) said they were physically attacked by a student
35.2% of teachers said student misbehavior interfered with their teaching

The national snapshot is somewhat different, since the surveys included different age groups.  A startling number of children – 1.2 million – were victims of crime at school.  They reported 619,000 thefts and 743,100 violent crimes and assaults.  (Students surveyed in 2008 were 12-18 years old)  Here are some other surprising numbers:

15 homicides and 7 suicides of children at school during the 2008-2009 school year
8% of students were threatened with a weapon at school
20% of schools reported gang activity
32% of students said they were bullied in 2007