Crime Problem: Gang Violence
Gang violence has become a perennial problem in the United States. No matter the hard measures taken by the federal government to maintain law and order criminal gangs continue to wreck havoc in our streets and neighborhoods. In a 2010 survey, the National Youth gang Survey (NYGS) put the prevalence of gang problems at 34.1 percent, a figure that has remained fairly constant since 2005 (Egley and Howell, 2012). According to the survey, there are an estimated 29,400 number of gangs operating across the United States, with approximately 756, 000 gang members. The FBI associates the proliferation of gangs to the rise in the number of violent crimes. Gang crime account for more than half of all homicides reported in U.S large cities (Egley and Howell, 2012). While the gang problem may not be necessarily a new issue the chilling figures and other social economic consequences call for concerted effort to address gang-related crime.
Everybody is susceptible to gang crime (U.S. Department of Justice, 1996). This includes anybody who can come in between the gang attempts to control neighborhoods or anyone trying to disrupt the gang income which includes extortion, drugs and weapon trafficking, robbery, and fraud and brothels (Curry and Spergel 1992). Sometimes the teens are the most affected as they are lured into their enemy’s trap unknowingly. Other victims are the innocent citizens who have been caught in the crossfire. According to NYGS there was an annual average of 2000 gang homicide from 2006 to 2010 (Egley and Howell, 2012). Gang crime is mostly concentrated in urban areas. The most affected cities are the long beach, Oakland, Oklahoma, Los Angeles, Newark, Chicago and Oklahoma.
U.S, gang membership can largely be classified as street gangs, motorcycle gangs or the prison gangs. Although the number of females continuing to join these gangs has increased, gang membership is still dominated by the males. The majority of the members (58.6 percent in 2008) are adults, meaning that they are over 18 (Egley and Howell, 2012).
A Gang Structure
Adopted from: Urban Dynamics, Inc
In order to understand gang crime, it is important to first of all understand why gangs form (Clarke, 1997). What for instance motivate youths into joining gangs and what sustain them into this gangs? There are so many schools of thoughts as to why youths join gangs. There is a school of thought that believe youths join various gangs to fulfill some of the needs that the society is unable to provide for them(Felson, 1994).). Others attribute the formation of gangs to poverty and ethnic marginality, desire for material gain, influence of supportive peer groups, and escape from hostile families (Gordon, 2000). From a psychological perspective these motivating factors can be summed to what Maslow termed as the hierarchy of needs (Decker, 2008). In this theory, Maslow argues that that human needs are hierarchical, forming a pyramid shape. At the lower level, human beings are guided by the physiological and safety related needs. At the top of the pyramid they want to feel a sense of belongingness, self-esteem, and self actualization (Decker, 2008). When the youths are denied a fruitful opportunity to attain these needs, they are most likely to be lured to criminal gangs that ostensibly provide an easier way of rising to the top of pyramid. In this way, gangs are adoptive mechanism of releasing the human needs that that are not met through the proper channel.
However, theories that tend to lean towards environmental sociology tend to argue that inequality, poverty, and unemployment play a minimal role in influencing crime. According to these theories, people have a rational choice, and will always be motivated to behave in a way that maximizes pleasure and avoids pain. Routine Activity Theory, a subsidiary of Rational Choice Theory for instance holds that for a crime to occur there must be three elements: a motivated offender who has criminal inclinations, a promising target, and the absence of a capable guardian who can prevent the crime from occurring (Felson and Cohen, 1980). The three elements form the sides of the crime triangle or the problems analysis triangle.
Adopted from: Center for Problem-Oriented Policing
According to this theory, crime is a normal activity and will always occur when the three elements converge. From a utilitarian perspective, criminals are motivated to act whenever an opportunity presents itself. The opportunity can be the presence of a vulnerable target that is not protected by an effective guardian. In this case, the guardian is the security system. It is important to note a security system does not only comprise the police but also the neighbors, colleagues, friends, security guards and all the other preventive agents. Thus, whenever the security system is not effective enough in providing the security for its people, criminals will always strike (Clarke and Felson, 2004).
Principle Opportunity Theory
The opportunity theory is premised on the ground that opportunity makes the thief (Felson and Clarke, 1998). The theory argues that when there is an opportunity to commit a crime, the criminals will rise to the occasion. If this assertion is held in the perspective of the gang crime, it would not be truer. In United States for example, gangs seems to have an open opportunity to commit crime. If the gangs that are operating in drug trafficking are to be considered against this theory for instance, it can be argued the United States has ready market for drugs. Any criminal who want to indulge in drug trafficking will get an available market, and of course make good money. This is also the case with weapon trafficking. The opportunities are just irresistible.
As the theory further argues, a crime opportunity will create the opportunity for another crime. This must be the reason why the gangs are involved in a series of crimes. The gangs will be charged from all manner of criminal activities from homicide, extortion, rape, robberies and many more. Thus when one is trafficking arms; he or she can easily be tempted to employ the same weapons to commit a crime (Howell and Decker, 1998). Drugs traffickers also will be forced to unleash violence to protect their strongholds. It is also true that crimes will be concentrated in time and space. No wonder gang crime is more concentrated in lower end suburbs. Reducing the opportunity to commit crime will definitely reduce this type of crime but it is not usually the final solution. Concerted measures will have to be put in place.
The fact that gang crime is a perennial problem does not mean that it can not be eradicated, or at least reduced to tolerable levels (Braga et al, 2012). Various interventions can be applied to try and dismantle the gang culture. Like the opportunity theory would observe, gang culture is becoming too attractive. Many of the youngsters are now almost relating gang culture as a way of lifestyle. These gangs will exhibit a definite style of dressing, talking and even walking. Unless urgent measures are taken, the children who grow up in gang dominated neighborhood are likely to think that being a member of gang is a way of life. The government, the media and the larger society must do all things at their disposal to paint gang culture as unacceptable social behavior. Children must be taught to shape up to the right role models.
To reduce gang crime both the governments-federal and local- and the society at large must take measures that will discourage committing crime. At the federal level for instance, the government must make sure that drug and weapon trafficking is not only a difficult affair, but it is risky as well. Those caught committing crime must be made to face the full force of the law. Marketing the products of crime activity must be made increasingly difficult (Braga, 2011). This will call for dismantling the current thriving black market. It is important to remember that most of the criminal gangs will continue to commit crime so long as there are remarkable benefits (Eck, 1994). The government must make sure that committing crime is absolutely worthless, with no benefits. Such measures as seizing products gotten out of criminal activity are steps in the right direction.
In addition, as the criminal gang will commit crime in the absence of a guardian, the government must put in place an effective security structure, including an active police service and a society that is well informed and prepared in ways of reducing crime (Felson, 1994). The current modern policing requires that the security be trained in ways of pre-empting criminal activity rather than reacting to crime that has already been committed (Braga, 2011). More importantly, the government needs to put in place measures that will eradicate the excuses that are put up time and again as the motivating factors to crime. Such as excuses as poverty, unemployment and ethnic marginalization must be resolved.
Dismantling the black market to discourage drug and weapon trafficking. The government should ensure that our borders are well monitored, and guarded to prevent shipment of illegal goods.
Tightening security apparatus, including employing modern technology like evenly distributed CCTV cameras.
Training the police on active rather than reactive measures: In this way the police will have new ways of doing things like pre-empting crime rather than responding to criminal activity.
Use harsh deterrence measures like long term incarceration and capital punishment where warranted.
Invest in social economic conditions to uplift the life of all people
Ensure that the children are brought up in proper parentage and the right guidance before they slip to gang culture.
Braga et al. (2012).Moving the work of criminal investigators towards crime control. London: Sage Publishers
Braga, A. (2011). Problem-Oriented Policing and Crime Prevention. London: Sage Publishers
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Gordon, S. (2000). Criminal Business Organization, Street Gangs and ‘Wanna-be’ Groups: a Vancouver Perspective. Canadian Journal of Criminology Vol. 42 (1), 39-60.
Howell, J. & Decker, S. (1998). The Youth gangs, Drugs, and Violence connection. Washington DC; U.S Department of Justice
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Urban Dynamics HYPERLINK “http://www.urbandynamics.net/” http://www.urbandynamics.net/