They have served their sentences. Some have been released early for good behavior. It is now time to reenter mainstream society and retake possession of a life that has been lost. For some, this process can be easy. There is support. There is family. There are jobs waiting. For others, the road is not nearly as easy and can lead right back to the cinderblock institutions the ex-offenders recently left.
In 2014, the U.S.-Mexico border was flooded with a steady stream of unaccompanied alien children (UAC). According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2014 “more than 68,500 unaccompanied children were apprehended,” a huge increase from 2011, when the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended just 16, 067 children. With reasons for the influx varying, the children consistently cited gang or cartel violence as their primary motivation for fleeing their countries. However, rather than these children receiving a safe haven from gangs and the violence that accompanies them, the arrival of these children actually created more recruiting opportunities for brutal gangs, such as MS-13.
The Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver (GRID) recently celebrated a milestone of having served more than 500 gang-affiliated youth and adults. The collaborative effort of its Gang Outreach Workers, multi-disciplinary intervention teams, government agencies, service providers, and the community made this achievement possible.
"Approximately 11 percent of students in middle and high schools across the country report the presence of gang activity in their schools."
Lauren Musu-Gillette, National Center for Education Statistics, Anlan Zhang, American Institutes for Research, Ke Wang, Jizhi Zhang, American Institutes for Research, Barbara A. Oudekerk, Bureau of Justice Statistics May 16, 2017 NCJ 250650
The use and utility of social media for law enforcement gang investigations is a relatively new phenomenon. While the potential benefits are obvious, it is critical that agencies plan for the use of these tools before they are used. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help:
James C. Howell taught us in his article “Mimicking or Menacing” (2007) that there is a lot of misinformation about gangs. Some of the misinformation is fueled by media reports or law enforcement groups that generalize from one incident to all gangs or gang members. A good example is the story from the 1980s about flashing one’s lights at a car driving without its lights on, thought to be part of a gang initiation leading to the shooting of the occupants of the car that flashed its lights. It turned out that there were few, if any, recorded incidents of such behavior. The online behavior of gangs and gang members is another issue about which there is more talk than facts.
In communities with gang issues, youth receive many complex messages every day in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods. Gangs should be avoided, and yet they seem to offer power, support, prestige, and economic incentives to their members. Some adults give conflicting messages about gangs and may even accept money from the illicit activities of gangs, while expressing dismay at youth gang involvement.
In 1979, with support from the federal government, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office established a specialized prosecution unit devoted to violent gang crimes: Operation Hardcore (now known as the Hardcore Gang Investigations Unit). Prosecutors handled only gang-related cases, and their caseloads were reduced. Cases were handled vertically, or on a continuous basis, by prosecutors, and additional investigative support was provided (e.g., funds for witness relocation).
Cure Violence (previously known as CeaseFire) began in 1995 with the goal of stopping shootings and homicides in Chicago, Illinois. An interdisciplinary public health strategy, Cure Violence has four core activities that work in conjunction to disrupt the transmission of violence: detection and interruption of potentially lethal events, intervention with highest-risk persons—or those thought most likely to be involved in potential events in the near future—changing group and community behavior and norms, and data and monitoring.
In November 2011, in the Bronx, New York, a gang member opened fire on a rival in an emergency room (ER) waiting area, wounding a nurse and a security guard. In March 2012, a dispute among gang members at a North Miami-area funeral home sparked a mass shooting that injured 12 people and killed 2. The multiple victims, family members, and rival gang members converged on local emergency rooms, creating a chaotic and highly volatile atmosphere.