Gang Violence Declines 73% From 1994-2003
According to a new report from the Justice Policy Institute, despite a rash of sensationalized cases surrounding gang violence, the phenomenon actually decreased over 70 percent from 1994-2003.
In “Ganging Up on Communities”, researchers put many of the current concerns about rising gang crime into context, and analyze the need, and the impact of additional federal laws to address the problem.
Currently, several new pieces of federal legislation are being advanced to address the “gang crisis,” federalizing law enforcement efforts that have historically been the jurisdiction of the states, and proposing laws to try more youth as adults.
According to the data from the policy brief, some of the policies being proposed may exacerbate the country’s crime problem, and steers resources away from local and state groups that have shown success.
“While some communities still experience unacceptable levels of crime, including youth crime and gang crime, the data just doesn’t support elevating gangs to the level of a “national crisis,”” said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute and co-author of the report. “We don’t need an additional layer of federal laws on top of the state laws to address this issue. We need to invest the resources in groups that have been proven successful in working with youth and gangs.”
In this policy brief, researchers highlight the several legislative proposals call for new federal powers to prosecute 16 and 17-year-old youth as adults for gang-related violent crime.
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the number of people nationwide reported to be arrested in 2003 for either a “gangland” or “juvenile gang homicide” totaled 1,111–approximately 7% of the 16,503 homicide arrests that year. Of those, only 111 were reported to be under 18 years-of-age.
The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) reports that, between 1994 and 2003, the rate of reported violent victimizations by perceived gang members fell from 5.2 per 1,000 to 1.4 per 1,000–a decline of 73%. According to the NCVS, “violent crimes for which victims identified the offender to be a gang member peaked in 1996 at 10% of all violent crime and decreased until 1998 to about 6%, not significantly changing since.”
“Federalizing the gang issue by increasing criminal penalties and loosening the criteria for deporting youth is not the answer to the gang problem–it has the likely outcome of victimizing youth not involved in criminal activity,” said Mai Fernandez, Chief Operating Officer of the DC-based Latin American Youth Center.
“In those communities where there is a gang problem, specialized law enforcement strategies paired with specially tailored employment and social services programs can make a huge difference in decreasing gang violence,” she added.
According to one study based on Los Angeles and published in the Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection and Critical Care, the strongest correlations with gang violence were employment and income. In communities where unemployment rates were between 14% and 16%, there were 15 times as many gang homicides as in neighborhoods where the unemployment rate was 4% to 7%.