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					                                   Los Angeles Valley College
                         Political Science 001 - American Government
                         Information Brief on Criminal Gang Activity

Legal Definition of a Criminal Street Gang: In 1988 the California
Legislature enacted emergency legislation known as the STREET TERRORISM
ENFORCEMENT AND PREVENTION [STEP] ACT. This new law provided a legal
definition of a gang that had four basic elements. A gang is defined as: (1) any
ongoing organization of three or more people, (2) with a common sign or symbol, (3)
with one of its primary activities being the commission of one of twenty-five specified
crimes, and (4) which engages in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

       The purpose of this law was to ease the duties of prosecutors in gang cases. The
law included a comprehensive list of the most serious crimes on the books in California.
Among the aforementioned 25 specified crimes were: murder, manslaughter, rape,
arson, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, robbery, kidnapping, torture, mayhem,
carjacking and most drug offenses, excluding straight possession.

        Upon arrest of any gang member for one of the 25 specified crimes the
prosecutor need only prove that a pattern of gang activity existed. To do so he had only
to show that in the previous three years the gang to which the defendant belonged had
committed two or more crimes on that list. This determination of a pattern of criminal
street gang activity was considered by the law to be proof that the gang benefited from
such activity.

The Scope of the Problem: According to statistics in 2006 there are currently
some 25,000 gangs with a population of over 759,000 members active in the United
States. California alone is reported to have some 420,000 gang members or about 60%
of all gang members in the United States. Los Angeles City and County have the
largest number of gangs and the largest gang population of any locality in the United
States. In 2006 gang related violent crime increased by 14% while violent crime
actually declined in the area by 3%.

        Currently there are an estimated 39,000 gang members in LA. They account for
approximately 12% of all serious crime in the area, about 60% of all homicides and
cost the city and county nearly 2 billion dollars a year. One may add an additional 100
million dollars spent annually on law enforcement and community anti-gang programs.

        The homicide rate is a matter of great concern as the victims are primarily
young men between the ages of 16-25. Often the victims are members of gangs caught
up in 'turf battles' or 'retaliatory' killings. Their recklessness also results in a high
proportion of innocent bystanders. The homicide rate in LA is disproportionately high
among young Hispanic and Black men. The national homicide rate for all races is six
per 100,000. Among Hispanics the rate is 52 per 100,000 and among Blacks the rate is
a startling 176 per 100,000. To look at it in another way young Hispanic men die at a
rate that is three times that of their white counterparts while young Black men die at a
rate of three times that of young Hispanic men.

                                   Los Angeles Valley College
                         Political Science 001 - American Government
                         Information Brief on Criminal Gang Activity

        The two most disturbing trends evident in the statistical data for 2006 are: [1]
the increase in gang related activity in the San Fernando Valley where violent gang
related crime increased by 40% and [2] the aggressive intrusion of Hispanic gangs into
predominantly Black residential areas. Their purpose is to challenge territory largely
controlled by Black gangs. While Black gangs were and are a source of crime and
intimidation in their own backyards there was an uneasy acceptance of resident gangs
by the Black community. This recent inter-gang violence has terrorized Black
residents in the inner city, has contributed to the increased homicide rate among young
Black men and has fueled racial tensions throughout the greater LA region.

Who joins a gang and why: Criminal Gangs have been a part of the American
scene since shortly after Independence. Wars and the westward movement contributed
to this phenomena but the increase in immigration in the period between 1870 and
1925 increased their prominence. In that period more than 20 million immigrants,
predominantly from Eastern and Central Europe arrived in the United States to
provide the human capital for the post-Civil War industrial revolution.

        Often the men arrived without their families. Unable to communicate well in
English, exploited by the factory and mine owners where they worked, excluded from
the more established communities the newly arrived immigrant lived with their ethnic,
social, linguistic and religious peers. There they created ethnic enclaves where they
found understanding, compassion, financial support and protection among their own
kind. Not withstanding the benefits of living in these closed ethnic communities the
end result was a fostering of a type of self-imposed segregation from mainstream
society. Their primary and defining characteristic was an unhealthy fear and distrust
of all outsiders and a natural dislike and suspicion of established authority - especially
the police.

       Inevitably some of these displaced immigrants turned to crime. Their reasons
were several but included: revenge against their exploiters, protection from rival gangs,
sheer survival and a desire for easy money. "Since most incoming immigrants enter
American society at its bottom layers and live in decaying, crime-ridden neighborhoods,
almost all have intimate contacts with crime and criminals early in their lives in the
United States -- most often as victims. For a minority of young immigrants, as the
sociologist Daniel Bell has written, crime has served as a means of upward social
mobility. These immigrants have been of every imaginable ethnic group." Coming to
America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, Pg. 198, Roger

        But the gangs were a part of the fabric of life for many immigrant groups in
the early years of living in the United States. Often they were seen in a positive light as
they provided a modicum of safety and stability in their communities. Usually by the
third generation the descendents of immigrants became more and more integrated into
mainstream society. The immigrant gangs, no longer able to claim their protective and

                                   Los Angeles Valley College
                         Political Science 001 - American Government
                         Information Brief on Criminal Gang Activity

supporting roles became marginalized. However, the attraction of gang life remained
strong among the lower rungs of society. Deprived of their protective responsibilities
the gangs turned more and more to mainstream crime.

        Today our system of universal public education offers opportunities for social,
economic and professional advancement unknown to previous generations. But despite
our best efforts there are those who remain marginalized, discriminated against and
disaffected from present day society. The resident gang offers a sense of family for
those who come from broken homes; a place of community among the disaffected and
an opportunity for thrills and adventure largely closed off from their day-to-day life.
Once in these fraternities of disaffected youth the transition from petty crime to serious
felonies is not that difficult.

        Being caught, tried and incarcerated no longer is a deterrent. Overcrowded and
under policed prisons have become ‘advanced training centers’ for crime. The gangs
operate within and often are the dominant disciplinary force in the prisons. The prison
variant of the hometown gang provides protection; offers comradery and a sense of
belonging. Since in our overcrowded prisons there is no place for rehabilitation, job
training or education the gang’s influence is paramount. Many gang members wear
their brief time in prison as a badge of honor. Because of early release programs many
will retain their prison gang affiliation, will rejoin the local chapter of the gang, re-
offend and be re-incarcerated. It is a vicious cycle from which many former gang
members are never fully free.

What has been done and what is planned: Of late there has been an
unprecedented flurry of anti-gang legislation at all levels of government. Media and
government supported public education efforts have helped to spotlight the gang
problem in the United States. Federal legislation, State proposals and city/county
efforts have concentrated on gang suppression on the one hand and youth programs as
alternatives to gang membership. The results are mixed but generally unsatisfactory
and gang-related crime has increased rather than decreased in the last decade. A brief
summary of what has been done and is proposed follows:

Federal Level programs to reduce gangs & gang violence: - The
most important and far reaching Congressional action is to found in 'The Gang
Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005' [The Gangbuster Bill]. This law
for the first time took into account the increasing inter-state nature of gang crime. Not
only were the larger well established gangs national in nature but they had become
major dealers in drugs and weapons. The guns and drugs trade brought with it an
inevitable spike in major crimes that spread well beyond state and national borders.

       The states wanted help, not just in terms of money but reinforcing law officers
and the superior intelligence assets of the FBI, DEA and ATF. The first step in the
process was to declare certain types of gang crimes to be federal in nature. To that end

                                   Los Angeles Valley College
                         Political Science 001 - American Government
                         Information Brief on Criminal Gang Activity

the new law defined gangs, spelled out the federal offenses and set minimum prison
sentences for those offenses.

The new law defined 'criminal street gangs' as formal or informal groups of 3 or more
individuals who commit 2 or more crimes, one of which is a crime of violence, in 2 or
more separate criminal episodes. It authorized federal intervention if any of the
activities of the criminal street gang affect interstate or foreign commerce. It went on to
specify minimum sentences for gang members found guilty of a federal gang related
crime. Examples of these minimum sentences follow:
    - Death or life imprisonment for any crime resulting in death
    - 30 years to life for kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault or maiming
    - 20 years to life for an assault resulting in serious bodily injury
    - 10 years to life for other violent crimes

    The key operational components of the federal 'Gangbusters Law' were 'gang
suppression' and pre-emptive measures aimed at vulnerable youth. The goal of gang
suppression was the reduction of gang activity by targeting the most violent gangs,
restricting their operations and isolating their recruitment base. Federal-State-Local
cooperating law enforcement agencies were authorized to designate 'High-Intensity
Gang Areas' as a means of better focusing joint law enforcement efforts against the
most violent gangs.

    The law increased federal funding to support Federal, state and local law
enforcement efforts against violent gangs [$250 M over 5 years]. Two key aspects of
this increased funding were: [1] Authorization of federal, state and local coordination
of law enforcement efforts including the sharing of intelligence and the joint
investigation of violent gangs. [2] The setting up of joint federal, state and local
'criminal street gang enforcement teams' to investigate and build evidence against
criminal street gangs in high intensity areas.

    To speed the prosecution of gang crimes the US Attorney General was given
funding to hire 94 additional Assistant US Attorneys to prosecute crimes in high
intensity interstate gang activity areas [$37.5 M over 5 years]. State and local law
enforcement officers and prosecutors also were given $100 M over five years to combat
violent criminal gang activity. With these funds they were enjoined to invest in
specialized training, new equipment, the hiring of additional prosecutors, and the
development of criminal gang data bases.

State programs - The most far reaching proposal to combat gang criminal activity
is found in the Governor's 'California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention
Program.' Referred to in shorthand as CalGRIP it was signed into law on October 11,
2008 it will allocate- $48 M in State & Federal Funds for gang suppression and
community programs that offer susceptible youth alternatives to joining a gang. Key
provisions of the Governor's initiative are:

                               Los Angeles Valley College
                     Political Science 001 - American Government
                     Information Brief on Criminal Gang Activity

Gang Suppression: An important objective of CalGRIP is to provide law
enforcement and officers of the court with the tools to restrict gang recruitment and
criminal activity. To that end CalGRIP will:

   [1] Set up a centralized Criminal Intelligence and Analysis Unit to gather
   intelligence on gangs from the 33 state prisons. From the intelligence gathered,
   State correctional officials may designate certain paroled gang members as
   High Risk Gang Offenders [HRGO]. HRGOs will be denied access to gang-
   infested and potential gang member recruitment areas. HRGO parolees will be
   identified to local law enforcement officials, must register with local law
   enforcement, wear GPS devices to make law enforcement officials aware of
   their whereabouts and will be tracked on the statewide, multi-jurisdictional
   parolee data base.

   [2] Allow local prosecutors and city attorneys to bring civil suits against gang
   members who have violated civil injunctions. Under CalGRIP the courts may
   confiscate the assets of gangs and individual gang members to satisfy the
   judgment. Any recovered funds will be returned to the community they

   [3] Protect witnesses in civil and criminal cases against threats and intimidation
   by gang members. The state's witness protection funds are to be increased.
   Witness intimidation will become a felony offense and those found guilty of
   intimidation will have their sentences increased by 4 years for each instance.
   CalGRIP allows the introduction of 'out-of-court' statements made by a
   prosecution witness when gang members prevent them from appearing in court

   [4] CalGRIP authorizes the California Highway Patrol to rotate 100 of its
   officers into high risk gang crime areas to assist local police.

   [5] Local authorities will be given resources to help reduce gang activities in
   California's prisons, and

   [6] The CalGANGS law enforcement data base will receive additional funding.

Gang Prevention programs: CalGRIP will provide funds to local
authorities to:

   [1] Create after-school programs and hire additional school counselors to
   provide an alternative to joining gangs

   [2] Fund anti-gang activities in local communities

   [3]Fund job training programs for current gang members and at risk youth

                              Los Angeles Valley College
                    Political Science 001 - American Government
                    Information Brief on Criminal Gang Activity

   [4]Help businesses through tax breaks to hire reformed gang members

   [5] Fund an assortment of special summer camp programs for youth and
   introduce new violence prevention, and job training programs.

Local programs in LA City & County - As gangs are a long term
problem for the LA area there have been several coordinated efforts toward gang
suppression and a number of programs designed to offer alternatives to gang
membership for youth in the inner city. The results have been mixed but recently
the efforts better to control gangs have gained new impetus and direction.

   [1] City officials have identified high concentrations of gang violence and crime
   and have increased and improved police presence in those areas. The Mayor
   has formed joint jurisdictional taskforces of FBI, DEA, ATF, State Police and
   Local police to monitor and develop intelligence against gang operations.

   [2]This targeting of gang infested areas has been aided by legal efforts to
   curtail gang movement and activity. The city of Los Angeles has made extensive
   use of 'Gang Injunction' as a court device to circumscribe gang activity.

          a. Gang injunctions are intended to restrict gang activity by placing
             vulnerable areas off limits to gangs. For example injunctions keep
             gang members away from schools, playgrounds and other areas
             where susceptible young people might be recruited into gang
             membership. The court order creates 'safety zones' of 1,000 feet from
             such designated areas.
          b. The injunction usually sets a curfew for gang members effectively
             driving them from the streets by 10, 11 or midnight depending on the
             night and the area.
          c. Injunctions allow police to arrest members of gangs for
             'congregating, loitering, trespassing, intimidating residents,
             possessing weapons or drugs or processing tools for graffiti.

       Currently the LA City Attorney's Office has some 33 operational gang
   injunctions targeting 50 of the most violent gangs. At this writing these
   injunctions place restrictions on some 11,000 gang members operating within a
   geographic area of 60 square miles.

      If gang members violate the terms of the injunction or are arrested and
   convicted gang related crime City ordinances mandate that gang members must
   spend at least 25% of their sentences in jail [average for other sentences is

   *Since the LA Jail system is the province of the LA County Sheriff these LA
   City rules place a greater burden on an already over crowded system. Sheriff

                                   Los Angeles Valley College
                         Political Science 001 - American Government
                         Information Brief on Criminal Gang Activity

       Baca has complained that he has too few beds, too few corrections officers and
       too little money. Because of overcrowding and financial constraints the Sheriff
       has allowed some 150,000 inmates to be released early since mid-2002. Many of
       these inmates have served only a small fraction of their sentences.

               The mandate that Gang Members must serve at least a quarter of their
       sentences exacerbates an already serious problem for the LA Correctional
       System. The Sheriff has agreed to 'do his best' but can not guarantee that he
       will be able to comply with the City's ordinance.

       Alternatives for prospective gang members - There is a wide
       spread belief among sociologists and students of the gang issue that providing
       alternatives to gang membership is the most effective way to curb the growth of
       gangs. LA has spent more than $100,000,000 in recent years to establish after-
       school, weekend and holiday activities to attract at risk youth.

             Alternative programs - sports, drama, dance etc.. - have had limited and
       uneven results. The key problem has been a lack of a coordinating body for
       their activities. The Mayor and the City Attorney are moving in the direction of
       appointing a 'Gang Czar' to oversee the efforts of some 100 private and public
       alternative programs. But gangs have steadily increased in number, levels of
       violence and territory. The City Attorney’s Office and his counterpart in the
       County have used ‘gang injunctions’ to limit the territory and activities of

               The proposed city budget for the coming Fiscal Year calls for an
       increase in property taxes to fund additional anti-gang programs. The proposed
       increase in property taxes must receive the approval of the citizens of LA on an
       upcoming referendum. California and LA in particular are what one might call
       'tax averse' and approval of the referendum is at best a 50/50 proposition.

               On October 11, 2007 Sheriff Baca announced that he was setting up the
       Southern California Gang Emergency Operations Center. The Center has a
       budget of $3 M and will be staffed by 30 anti-gang analysts. Its mission will be
       to coordinate anti-gang operations across all county jurisdictions. It will involve
       police, social services agencies as well as religious and community groups. The
       Sheriff expects the Center to be a clearing house for all information on gangs
       in the county.

Problem areas: There are three systemic problems with gang suppression and
alternative programs.

       [1] Despite repeated promises the city and county police remain short of
funding which has led to a concomitant shortage of city police, sheriff's deputies and
correctional officers. It is all well and good to identify high intensity gang areas,

                                   Los Angeles Valley College
                         Political Science 001 - American Government
                         Information Brief on Criminal Gang Activity
impose restrictions through gang injunctions but it is quite another thing to deploy the
manpower to make the program effective. Police and Sheriff's Deputies do patrol these
high risk areas but as a resident pointed out 'they can't be there 24/7 and as they leave
the gangs reappear.'

      [2] The second issue is the increase in the size and operational areas of
Hispanic gangs. Some gangs are reported to have 18-20,000 members and operate
throughout the city and into the county. City officials estimate that more than half of

 the members of Hispanic gangs are illegal aliens. LA Police Instruction #52 precludes
local police from inquiring into the immigration status of anyone other than a
convicted gang member. As a result there is no way to separate the illegal immigrant
gang member from those whose status is documented. In practical terms, it means
police have no means to determine the prior criminal record of a gang member. Also
having an illegal status means these criminals have more to lose than their Hispanic
American counterparts and it may well propel them to more violent activity.

       [3] Attacks by Hispanic gangs against African American gangs and the
residents of traditional black communities are a very disturbing development could well
presage escalating levels of violence. Inevitably that violence will affect the gangs, their
families and all too many innocent bystanders. Several young children have been
victims of random drive by shootings in both the Black and the Hispanic communities.
Law Enforcement officials are already strained to the limit to handle current levels of
crime a sharp increase in violence will make all of us more vulnerable.