The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The odds of finding a "pattern of criminal gang activity"

According to Tennessee § 40-35-121. Criminal Gang Offenses—Enhanced Punishment—Procedure, a "Pattern of criminal gang activity" means prior convictions for the commission or attempted commission of, or solicitation or conspiracy to commit either:
  • Two (2) or more criminal gang offenses that are classified as felonies; or
  • Three (3) or more criminal gang offenses that are classified as misdemeanors; or
  • One (1) or more criminal gang offense that is classified as a felony and two (2) or more criminal gang offenses that are classified as misdemeanors; and
  • The criminal gang offenses are committed on separate occasions; and
  • The criminal gang offenses are committed within a five-year period.
Put another way, it means the (presumably street-wise) gang member has to avoid conviction of all but two times he commits a felony in five years to keep from having this enhancement apply to his actions. 

To understand how easy this is, consider the arrest rate of people, generally, for all crimes, bearing in mind that gang members have a built-in mentoring and arrest avoidance program. 

The FBI reports an arrest rate based on the population. They reported in 2009 that the arrest rate was 4,478.0 arrests per 100,000 inhabitants of the total estimated United States population (violent crime was 191.2 per 100,000 and property crime was 571.1 per 100,000). That means that an estimated 4500 arrests were made for every 100,000 people, or 4 1/2 per 100 (4.5%).

This method of calculation shows arrest rates but what about the arrest percentage, or: How likely is a perpetrator to get arrested for committing a crime? 

This is often represented by a crime funnel. The funnel represents the much lower number of crimes detected and punished by the criminal justice system than the number actually committed. Early in the criminal justice system (where the police are), many arrests are made, but the number to be prosecuted shrinks as they are removed from the process. Some are dismissed, while others get referred for treatment or counseling. 

Here's an example:

Note that the basic numbers go like this. For every 1,000 crimes committed, 500 of them (that's half) are reported to the police. Of the 500 reported to the police, 100 arrests (that's 20% of the crimes reported and 10% of the crimes committed) are made.

And now that the police have done the hard work, the folks in the rest of the "system" take over.

Of the 100 arrests, about one-third (35%) are juveniles, and 30 of them are put on probation or have their cases dismissed. Though many gang members are juveniles, you can imagine how that wraps up -- stick with me for the adult analysis. 

Of the 100 arrests, about two-thirds (65%) are adults, and 25 of those cases are dropped. Of the 40 people remaining, prepared for court (a function of the Courts part of the Criminal Justice System), 10 jump bail, abscond, or otherwise take affirmative action to avoid further prosecution. From the remaining 30, 27 plead guilty in court, 2 who didn't are found guilty, and 1 (of 30 who remain of the 100 arrested for the 1000 crimes) is acquitted. 

Note, if you will, that acquitted is not the same as innocence -- it's the same as there wasn't enough evidence to support the charges. Note, also, that the court system is where multiple incidents can be combined into one and felonies can turn into misdemeanors.

Of the 29 people sentenced, 8 of them (about 27%) are placed on probation and 21 of them are incarcerated (both are functions of the Corrections part of the Criminal Justice System).

To make sure we have that locked in and comprehended -- for every 1000 crimes committed, 500 (half) get reported. Of the reported crimes, 100 arrests (one-fifth) are made. Of the people arrested, about 29 people (less than 30% of those arrested) are convicted, and 20 (one-fifth) are incarcerated. That's a little different than the FBI numbers, don't you think?

So, assuming a gang member doesn't get locked up for five years, they have to fight the odds of getting convicted of two separate felonies or three separate misdemeanors during that time OR they can be identified as being involved in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

What are the odds of that?
See also: 
Gang Laws and their inability to be useful against real criminals

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A great civil law tool -- injunctions and related actions against gangs -- but what about civic involvement -- Southern Style!

It's not been covered too much in the news, but check out Metro Files Lawsuit Against Accused Gang Members: Metro's legal department has filed a lawsuit against the Kurdish Pride Gang (KPG) and several of their alleged members, asking that they be declared a public nuisance. Wouldn't it be nice if all the gangs and other organized crime groups -- heck, even regular everyday criminals -- could be declared a nuisance?

Unfortunately, there don't seem to be enough citizens who are 1) annoyed and 2) able to stand up for themselves. I completely support the MNPD's actions, but why is it they seem to be the only ones acting like gangs in our communities are a bad thing? These groups have been treated as if they are living the American Dream -- and unfortunately in many cases, they are. 

Typical responses to gang behavior include public (community or neighborhood based) official (using the criminal justice system) and legislative (local, state, and federal legislative bodies) action.  Local anti-gang legislation like civil abatement laws, injunctions, and restrictive ordinances rarely make an impact on gangs, though they often force a move out of "our neighborhood". With these injunctions, gang-free zones are sought (like public parks or neighborhoods). 

In this country, it′s not against the law to be a member of a gang. The First Amendment  gives us the right to join any group or club, assuming we meet their requirements. Implicit within this right is the right to associate with members of the group. That seems to indicate the right includes membership and affiliation with gangs and gang members. What is prohibited is the committing of crimes and other actions that gang members often do. In a nutshell, then, it's legal to be a member of a gang, but not to be an active member, as active gang members commit crimes (or their group would not "qualify" as a gang). The constitutional right to assemble allows us to gather (only) for lawful purposes. Thankfully, the courts have held that the government may prohibit people from associating in groups that engage in and promote illegal activities. 

With injunctions and related actions, the gang is sued as a public nuisance with evidence provided by the police and sometimes members of the community.   Injunctions have been seen to reduce gang member visibility, gang intimidation, and fear of crime by residents.   That works for the community, at least for a time, but we can do better.

The better strategies incorporate the community-based policing efforts that include mobilizing and interacting with community members in a coordinated effort.  When there is an established community policing effort (not unlike what it took to implement bike patrols, drug market interventions, and the use of Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety -- DDACTS), prosecutors and police can include input from police, prosecutors, merchants, property owners, and other community members when devising strategies like obtaining injunctions, so there's more of a chance the affected parties are included in the decisions.  

Additional work to improve neighborhood cohesion and informal control is needed, but let's not depend entirely on the police to do it.   Gang injunctions should be used on a continuing basis and more resources should be directed into the enforcement and maintenance of gang injunctions, assuming they are effective, but at some point citizens need to get engaged in the process. It starts by teaching children (not just our own, unfortunately) that gangs are a bad thing. We need to change the paradigm, and that requires a relatively long-term commitment. 

The action against the KPG represents the first time a local government has sought to have alleged members declared a public nuisance since criminal gang behavior was added to the state's public nuisance law in 2009. This action (at least the use of injunctions in Nashville) has been planned for a few years. That serves as yet another reason that citizens need to get involved in the push-back effort against gangs. Citizen groups, as evidenced by Occupy Nashville, Wall Street, and so many others, don't have such a long and extended lead time waiting for the legislators, leadership, and courts to synchronize.

Other coverage by NPR here.

What do you think?

All grown up but still banging - when juvenile gang members become adults

Presenting today to the Tennessee Alliance for Children and Families, 8th Annual Education Conference “Achieving Success in the Face of Adversity.” 

Presentation titled All grown up but still banging: What issues can we expect if they don't "age out?”  in Nashville, TN on June 13, 2012.