Agency Collaboration, Community Participation Vital To Cut Violent Gang-related Neighborhood Crime

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Nov. 12, 2003
   

A RAND Corporation study issued today concludes that stepped-up law enforcement—combined with increased cooperation between police, prosecutors, probation authorities and community groups—can help reduce gun violence in areas plagued by violent gangs.

Violent gun-related crimes involving gang members dropped by as much as one-third in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights after an effort involving government agencies and the community was put in place to reduce gun violence, the study by RAND Public Safety and Justice found.

The program—called Operation Ceasefire—brought together members of the community, faith-based groups and criminal justice agencies to form the partnership that organized the anti-crime effort aimed at reducing gun violence in the community.

"Curbing gun crime in violent neighborhoods requires a combined effort by both law enforcement and community members," said K. Jack Riley, director of RAND Public Safety and Justice and an author of the report. "Each agency and community group brings specialized expertise that, when combined, is more effective than if the parties worked separately."

Operation Ceasefire was carried out in Hollenbeck, an area east of downtown Los Angeles made up of such neighborhoods as El Sereno, Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights. Hollenbeck often exhibits one of the highest levels of violence and homicide within Los Angeles. The RAND team determined that the great majority of gun violence in this community involved gangs and disputes over turf and respect.

Operation Ceasefire used several approaches to reduce gun violence. After the researchers and the working group determined that the gang structure provided an opportunity to leverage both group and individual behavior, they decided on a strategy they called "collective accountability" that holds all members responsible for the actions of any individual member. Some specific ways they applied this approach include:

    Using police records so that after a violent incident by a given gang, all members, regardless of who committed the act, were given the highest priority in terms of probation, parole and warrant enforcement.

    Increasing police patrols, in both the area of the offender's gang and victim's gang.

    Stricter enforcement of public housing residency requirements for properties used by gang members, including prohibitions of drugs, firearms and other contraband.

    Dynamic and rapid application of these and other intervention elements after violent acts to ensure that perpetrators and victims understood that there were consequences to supporting violence.

At the same time, the community attempted to reach out with a variety of supportive services for gang members including job training and development, tattoo removal and substance abuse treatment.

The overall results of Operation Ceasefire were somewhat mixed. While researchers found that violent and gun- and gang-related crime in general dropped throughout the area during the intervention, the effects decreased over time, particularly when resources were not directly applied and Operation Ceasefire was relying on the deterrent value of earlier actions.

A number of factors influenced the outcomes of Operation Ceasefire. The program was implemented early and without all of the prevention and social intervention programs in place. In addition, the working group concentrated primarily on two gangs in a particular area of Boyle Heights, rather than broadening the program to include other gangs and areas as other gun crimes were committed.

As a result of these and other factors, researchers were unable to determine whether the program could have suppressed or deterred crime in all of Boyle Heights or how long the intervention would have had to operate in order to achieve such an effect.

Los Angeles is a large metropolitan area with a decentralized criminal justice system that includes many agencies such as: police and prosecutors for city, county and federal governments; county, state and federal jail and prison systems; and probation and parole systems. Changes in personnel at all levels (especially elected officials and police command staff) presented a major challenge to successfully implementing Operation Ceasefire.

The study found that officials must make certain that financial, staffing and other mechanisms are in place to hold agencies and their staffs accountable for either success or failure if interagency task forces are to succeed. This requires advanced planning, especially as budgets are being developed.

The study recommends that city leaders consider the cost effectiveness of crime reduction programs involving interagency coordination before undertaking such programs. Most evaluations of interagency collaborations focus exclusively on how much crime actually decreased, without considering the costs associated with planning and implementation of the strategy.

The study, "Reducing Gun Violence: Results from an Intervention in East Los Angeles," was supported with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice. The other authors are George Tita, Greg Ridgeway, Clifford Grammich, Allan F. Abrahamse and Peter W. Greenwood.

The study (ISBN: 0-8330-3475-8) is available online. A printed copy can be ordered for $20.00 from RAND Distribution Services (order@rand.org or call toll-free in the U.S. at 877-584-8642).

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