Gang Intervention: Police and School Collaboration
Torok, Wayne C., Trump, Kenneth S., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Once a concern only for large cities, youth gang activity now impacts communities of all sizes. Gangs tear at the social fabric of America, causing numerous problems for many segments of society.
Unfortunately, even the public schools--once traditional safe havens of society--are no longer immune to gang activity and violence. The scope of the youth gang problem requires specialized law enforcement intervention and prevention strategies on the local level.
In Cleveland, Ohio, the public school system and the Cleveland Police Department joined forces to combat the gang problem. The school board created a Youth Gang Unit within the school system, which now works closely with the police department's Youth/Gang Unit. This article discusses the collaboration of the units and how this combined effort reduced the gang problems in both the schools and the community.
Many law enforcement administrators do not readily acknowledge the existence of gangs in their jurisdictions. In fact, a 1988 study of gangs in Ohio identified denial as a typical official response of law enforcement and a major obstacle in addressing youth gangs effectively.(1) This denial actually sends the wrong message to gang members, who then believe they can operate with impunity.(2) This, in turn, promotes the victimization of communities by gangs.(3)
Many factors contribute to the official denial of gang activity, including the problem of definition, the inability to identify the root causes, and the lack of resources needed to address gang issues adequately. However, as gang activity grows, media and community pressure to respond to the problem also grows.
Unfortunately, by the time gangs are officially recognized by the police, they have often become entrenched in the community. As a result, law enforcement agencies respond by creating specialized squads or units designed to eliminate the gangs through strong enforcement. In the beginning, this was the strategy adopted by the Cleveland Police Department.
The Youth/Gang Unit, formed in 1990, is divided into two squads--a youth squad and a gang squad. The youth squad investigates most juvenile, nongang-related crimes. The gang squad investigates most gang-related crimes committed by both adult and juvenile offenders, including misdemeanor crimes, which are not normally investigated by detectives. (The theory behind the investigation of misdemeanor crimes is that any information--no matter how trivial--adds to detectives' knowledge concerning gangs.)
Members of the gang squad also conduct other indepth investigations in an effort to identify gang members, to enhance intelligence-gathering by obtaining detailed information on gang territories and methods of operation, and to ensure successful prosecution of gang members. They supplement their investigations with street enforcement.
Initially, street enforcement was designed to reduce overt gang violence and intimidation. However, officials began targeting specific gangs and gang members based on unit investigations and on concerns voiced by citizens, public officials, and others impacted by gang crimes. The combination of investigations, street enforcement, and intelligence-gathering provided a balanced approach to reduce gang activity.
While this approach worked in the beginning, officials came to realize that these strategies alone would not solve the problem. Clearly, the problem called for the involvement of the public education system, where early intervention by school officials might dissuade students from gang involvement.
SCHOOL YOUTH GANG UNIT
Although the majority of youths in school do not participate in gang activity, the incidents that do occur shift the focus from educational issues to safety concerns. Escalating gang conflicts deprive students, teachers, and administrators of valuable time needed for learning. Therefore, school board officials created their own Youth Gang Unit within the Division of Safety and Security, a part of the public school system. …