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Addressing Community Gang Problems: A Practical Guide

NCJ Number
J Stedman; D L Weisel
Date Published
228 pages
A community problem-solving model applicable to gangs is described that is referred to as SARA (scanning, analysis, response, and assessment) and that considers gang involvement in drugs and violence, graffiti, needs assessment, strategic planning, and civil remedies for gang-related harm.
Communities initiate the problem-solving process by searching for and identifying gang problems (scanning). The second step involves investigating specific gang problems in greater detail (analysis). Communities can then develop an action plan (response) and evaluate that plan's effectiveness (assessment). To aid in the problem-solving process, three criteria have been developed for defining a gang: community recognition of a group, group recognition of itself as a distinct group of adolescents or young adults, and group involvement in enough illegal activities to get a consistent negative response from law enforcement and neighborhood residents. While gang violence has escalated and gang involvement in drugs has been a feature of gang life for many years, gangs are increasingly and almost exclusively blamed for drug and violence problems of the past decade. Gangs and the media both benefit from exaggerated portrayals of gangs and gang life. The best possible explanation of the relationship between gangs and violence is that it depends primarily on the gang's organization. Gang graffiti tells police officers who is in what gang, territories claimed by gangs, and what gangs are trying to move or expand. Quick removal of graffiti is a standard anti-graffiti recommendation, the underlying idea being that graffiti artists will tire of having their work obliterated and give up. In planning a comprehensive solution to gang problems, a needs assessment is often the first step. Needs assessment involves laying the groundwork, identifying current gang activities, identifying and setting priorities, and developing a consensus. In addition, communities with existing or emerging gang problems should plan, develop, and implement comprehensive, harm-specific responses that include a broad range of community-based components. Civil remedies are available to deal with gang-related harm, and the best chance of obtaining swift legal action against gangs is to bring matters before courts of limited jurisdiction. Community evaluation of antigang efforts provides valuable information for decision-makers, documents efforts so they may be replicated elsewhere, and enables public agencies to justify gang prevention program costs. 134 references and 51 exhibits