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Understanding and Preventing Gang Violence: Problem Analysis and Response Development in Lowell, Massachusetts

NCJ Number
Police Quarterly Volume: 9 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2006 Pages: 20-46
Anthony A. Braga; Jack McDevitt; Glenn L. Pierce
Date Published
March 2006
27 pages
This article presents a description of the methodology and findings of an analysis of Lowell, Massachusetts' homicide and serious nonfatal gun violence problem that was undertaken through a partnership between criminal justice practitioners and researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University.
Findings from the problem analysis indicated that homicide and serious gun violence in Lowell were highly concentrated among a small number of highly active, gang-affiliated minority youth living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. A total of 19 active street gangs were identified, which were mainly composed of young Hispanic and Asian males. The resulting response was the development of an interagency working group comprised of criminal justice organizations, social service agencies, and community-based organizations that sought to target prevention, intervention, and enforcement resources at the small group of prolific offenders. Enforcement actions were triggered by outbreaks of gang violence; gangs were not subjected to increased law enforcement attention arbitrarily. Asian gang problems were confronted by targeting the illegal gambling businesses that used the Asian gang members for protection. Overall, the problem analysis process in Lowell led to the conclusion that a collaborative approach between criminal justice personnel and university researchers had much to offer to the development of crime prevention strategies. The problem analysis resembled a policy analysis exercise rather than a strict academic evaluation and involved the use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Data on basic homicide characteristics, serious gun violence incidents, and offender and victim criminal histories were gathered from official data systems in Lowell. Details are presented of the process the working group engaged in as they analyzed the nature of the gang and gun violence problem in Lowell. For example, it was determined that gangs in Lowell did not protect turf and as such, the mapping of gang territories that is so important to most gang studies was not pursued as part of this analysis. Future collaborations between police practitioners and researchers are encouraged in order to devise the best problem-oriented crime prevention strategies. Figures, tables, notes, references