The Effect of Urban Street Gang Densities on Small Area Homicide Incidence in a Large Metropolitan County, 1994-2002
Published In: Journal of Urban Health, v. 86, no. 4, July 2009, p. 511-523
Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2008
The presence of street gangs has been hypothesized as influencing overall levels of violence in urban communities through a process of gun-drug diffusion and crosstype homicide. This effect is said to act independently of other known correlates of violence, i.e., neighborhood poverty. To test this hypothesis, we independently assessed the impact of population exposure to local street gang densities on 8-year homicide rates in small areas of Los Angeles County, California. Homicide data from the Los Angeles County Coroners Office were analyzed with original field survey data on street gang locations, while controlling for the established covariates of community homicide rates. Bivariate and multivariate regression analyses explicated strong relationships between homicide rates, gang density, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic structure. Street gang densities alone had cumulative effects on small area homicide rates. Local gang densities, along with high school dropout rates, high unemployment rates, racial and ethnic concentration, and higher population densities, together explained 90% of the variation in local 8-year homicide rates. Several other commonly considered covariates were insignificant in the model. Urban environments with higher densities of street gangs exhibited higher overall homicide rates, independent of other community covariates of homicide. The unique nature of street gang killings and their greater potential to influence future local rates of violence suggests that more direct public health interventions are needed alongside traditional criminal justice mechanisms to combat urban violence and homicides.