The Gang Violence Reduction Program targeted mainly older members (ages 17 to 24) of two of the Chicago area’s most violent Hispanic gangs, the Latin Kings and the Two Six. Specifically, the Little Village program targeted more than 200 of the “shooters” (also called influential persons or leaders) of the two gangs. A steering committee was established to support the project. This group was composed of representatives from local churches, two Boys & Girls Clubs, a local community organization, a business group, other social agencies, the local alderman, and local citizens. The priority goal of the project was to reduce the extremely high level of gang violence among youth who were already involved in the two gangs; drug-related activity was not specifically targeted. The main goal was to be accomplished by a combination of outreach work, an Intervention Team, case management, youth services, and suppression.
Outreach youth workers aimed to prevent and control gang conflicts in specific situations and to persuade gang youth to leave the gang as soon as possible. Virtually all of these youth workers were former members of the two target gangs. An Intervention Team (mainly the outreach youth workers, police, and probation officers) met biweekly and exchanged information on violence that was occurring (or about to occur) in the community. It provided intensive services to gang members, including crisis intervention, brief family and individual counseling and referrals for services, and surveillance and suppression activities. Altogether, a good balance of services was provided.
Project police were hired to target the two gangs and their most violent members. They used standard policing tactics employed elsewhere in the city by Chicago police in controlling gang violence. The outreach youth workers sometimes collaborated with the project tactical officers in the exchange of information that was vital to the police suppression role, and project police officers often encouraged gang youth to accept services. The suppression contacts reduced the youth’s interest in and attachment to the gang. Services such as job placement reduced target youth’s time spent with other gang members.
The process evaluation of the program revealed that it was well-implemented, achieving an “excellent” rating on 8 of the 18 program-implementation elements: interagency and street (intervention) team coordinators; criminal justice participation; lead agency project management and commitment to the model; social and crisis intervention and outreach work; suppression; targeting, especially of gang members; balance of services; and intensity of services.
The outcome evaluation examined the effects of the Little Village project on the approximately 200 targeted, hard-core gang youths during the period in which they were served by the program. Self-reports of criminal involvement showed that the program reduced serious violent and property crimes, and sharp declines were also seen in the frequencies of various types of offenses. The program was more effective with older, high-rate, violent gang offenders than with younger, less violent offenders. Active gang involvement was also reduced among project youths, but mostly among older members, and this change was associated with less criminal activity. Most youth in both targeted gangs improved their educational and employment status during the program period. Employment was associated with a general reduction in youths’ criminal activity, especially drug selling.
A controlled comparison examined arrests among project youth versus two control groups (one of which received minimal services and the other one received no services from project workers). The program youth had significantly fewer total violent and drug arrests.
Using a similar research design, Spergel compared communitywide effects of the project on arrests between preprogram and program periods in Little Village versus other nearby “high-gang-crime” communities. The project was less effective in changing the entrenched pattern of gangbanging and gang crime among the two targeted gangs and in the Little Village community as a whole. Yet the increase in serious violent gang crimes was lower in Little Village than in all other comparable communities. Notably, residents and representatives of various organizations perceived a significant reduction in overall gang crime and violence in Little Village during the program period.
In sum, although the outcomes for the Little Village project are mixed, the results are consistent for violent crimes across analyses at all three impact levels: (1) the individual, (2) the group (gang), and (3) the community (especially in the views of residents). A similar impact was not seen on gang drug activity (although drug selling was reduced among older gang members when the project facilitated their employment), but the project specifically targeted gang violence, not gang drug activity.
Interestingly, the evaluation suggested that a youth outreach (or social intervention) strategy may be more effective in reducing the violent behavior of the younger and less violent gang youth and that a combined youth outreach and police suppression strategy might be more effective with the older, more criminally active and violent gang youth, particularly with respect to drug-related crimes. However, the best indicators of reduced total offenses were older age, associations with probation officers, and spending more time with a wife or steady girlfriend. In contrast, the best predictors of reduced violent offenses were youths’ avoidance of gang situations, satisfaction with the community, and more exposure to treatment for various personal problems.
Interactive and collaborative project outreach worker efforts—combining suppression, social support, and provision of social services—were shown to be most effective in changing criminal involvement of gang members. Larger program dosages (multiple providers, frequency, and duration of services) proved to be important, and these were associated with reduced levels of violence arrests. Four types of service or sanctions predicted successful outcomes among program youth: suppression (particularly by police), job referrals by youth workers, school referrals (mainly by youth workers), and program dosage (contacts by all workers together).
National Gang Center and OJJDP Model Programs Guide: Effective program
Mr. Irving A. Spergel
School of Social Service Administration
University of Chicago
969 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637-2640
Phone: (773) 702-1134
Fax: (773) 702-0874
Spergel, I. A. (2007). Reducing Youth Gang Violence: The Little Village Gang Project in Chicago. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.
Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. (1999). “Reducing Youth Gang Violence in Urban Areas: One Community’s Effort.” On Good Authority, 2(5):1–4.
Spergel, I. A., and Grossman, S. F. (1997). “The Little Village Project: A Community Approach to the Gang Problem.” Social Work, 42:456–470.
Spergel, I. A.; Wa, K. M.; and Sosa, R. V. (2006). “The Comprehensive, Community-Wide, Gang Program Model: Success and Failure.” In J. F. Short and L. A. Hughes (eds.), Studying Youth Gangs. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 203–224.