Using intelligence-led policing to reduce gang violence

The OJJDP Comprehensive Gang Model can be a driver to ILP

Editor's note: In resource-strapped times, intelligence-led policing is a key to identifying and investigating gang activity. This special coverage series reviews strategies departments can deploy to take a data-driven approach to reducing gang-related crime.

Intelligence-led policing is more than just the latest buzzword and magnet for grant money. In an age where law enforcement agencies are compelled to accomplish the same mission with fewer personnel and resources, it can literally be a way to work smarter, not harder.

In this Jan. 11, 2018 file photo, suspected members of the MS-13 gang are escorted to their arraignment in Mineola, N.Y.
In this Jan. 11, 2018 file photo, suspected members of the MS-13 gang are escorted to their arraignment in Mineola, N.Y. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Comprehensive gang model

The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) developed a comprehensive gang model (see document below) for use by local law enforcement.

The model is complex and involves multiple steps and participation by many community components, to include schools, churches, probation offices, mental health treatment providers and law enforcement to address the problem of gangs and gang-related violence systemically. Suppression of gang activity is only one of the steps of the model, and it champions intelligence-led policing (ILP) as a cornerstone of the effort.

There is no question that gang violence is a national social and crime problem. The OJJDP performed its first survey of gang-related crime in 1995, and has repeated it periodically since then. The most recent survey showed that gang activity has increased 21 percent since 2002, with over 3,500 U.S. jurisdictions affected. The most current estimate of gang activity shows there are at least 29,400 neighborhood street gangs active, with a membership exceeding 756,000 youth.

Identifying actual gang membership can be problematic, as a connection with the gang lifestyle has an allure for many youth. Mainstream teens who have no actual association with a street gang will incorporate gang jargon into their speech, addressing one another as “G” or “OG” (“gangsta” or “original gangsta,” the latter a charter member of a street gang) and will dress in what they believe to be gang clothes. The OJJPD gang model defines a gang as three or more street-based individuals, under 22 years of age, and who are directly involved in regular or recurrent criminal activity. The pretenders and hangers on seldom qualify.

Implementing intelligence-led policing

True ILP is not something manageable by a single officer, or even a group. It requires top-down planning and commitment to allow allocation of resources to be driven by data and analysis, rather than by public pressure or someone’s “gut.”

Street officers become data gatherers, looking beyond the crime problems they encounter on patrol and seeking the root causes: Are auto thefts random crimes of opportunity, or is there a pattern or method that points to a more organized motive? What happens to stolen property? Is it converted to the thief’s personal use, or is there some conduit where it’s converted to money by a third party?

The process is effective only when there is buy-in at all levels and everyone becomes a stakeholder in the effort. This can be a hard sell to officers and administrators whose experience tells them their own traditional methods are the best, and certainly the most familiar. By using the goal of managing the gang problem as a driver and one step in a proven and accepted crime reduction strategy, ILP advocates may find a way to get their foot in the door and sell ILP to management.

Technology is one lever to improve intelligence gathering and increase the efficiency of limited manpower. For example, an hour-by-hour analysis of crime data may reveal hot spots deserving of special attention during hours of peak crime activity. Rather than assign officers to randomly drive through large patrol beats when not committed to calls for service, concentrating patrols on a relatively small area during the times when there is the most activity may be a more effective use of manpower.

Federal assistance is available

Analytical tools needed to identify patrol hot spots may not be part of the typical agency’s CAD/RMS package, but there is assistance available if the agency chooses to commit to the OJJDP gang model and implement ILP. The federal National Gang Center provides training and technical assistance to local agencies in the form of telephone, email and on-site training from their staff and consultants.

The combined national crises of chronic gang violence and difficulty in recruiting police officers are not going to be resolved anytime soon. Major changes in societal attitudes and values at multiple levels are needed before we see improvement in either area. In the interim, law enforcement agencies can avail themselves of assistance in the form of proven strategies to reduce gang-related crime and using existing resources to improve the quality of life in their communities and make the most of the resources they have already.

LE Officials Guide to OJJDP... by on Scribd

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