The Youth Gang 'Crisis' In Toronto

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					  Youth Gangs in the Canadian Context:
Definitions, Estimates, Risk Factors and Policy Options

               Dr. Scot Wortley
             Centre of Criminology
             University of Toronto
  Why The Growing Concern
with Gangs and Gang Activities?

• An actual or “real” increase in gangs and
  violent gang activity?
• Increased media coverage of gang violence?
• Increased gang imagery in popular culture?
• GANG TYPES: youth gangs, street gangs, biker
  gangs, organized crime, terrorist gangs, etc.).
• Number of members (usually three or more).
• Stability, consistency or duration.
• Common identifiers (names, colours, tattoos, etc.).
• Territorial issues.
• Initiation rituals.
• Leadership and hierarchy.
• Involvement in criminal activity (drugs, robbery,
  fraud, theft, etc.).
           Definitional Issues:
• The number of definitional criteria will greatly
  influence gang estimates.
• Even when specific definitional criteria are met,
  gangs vary significantly by age and gender
  composition, level of organization, type or size of
  territory and level of involvement with crime and
• Must also differentiate between gang membership,
  gang affiliation and peripheral gang contact.
• How many gangs are there in a given jurisdiction?
• How many gang members are there?
• Are the number of gangs and gang members
  increasing or decreasing?
• Is gang-related crime and violence increasing?
• Are gangs becoming involved in new or different
  types of crime?
           GANG DATA
• Internal police intelligence.
• Surveys of police organizations and
  other gang “experts.”
• Gang-related crime statistics.
• General population surveys.
    The 2004 American National
    Youth Gang Survey (NYGS)
• The American National Youth Gang Centre
  (NYGC) has conducted this survey annually
  since 1995.
• 2004 survey sampled 2,554 police
  departments (including all departments
  serving cities of 50,000 or more).
• 90% response rate.
        2004 NYGS Results
• 80% of cities (with a population of 50,000
  or more) reported a “gang problem,”
  compared to 40% of suburban counties and
  only 12% of rural areas.
• Based on survey results, NYCG estimates
  that there are 760,000 youth gang members
  and 24,000 youth gangs currently operating
  in the United States.
       2002 Canadian Police Survey
             on Youth Gangs
• 264 police agencies responded (76% response
• Approximately 25% of these police agencies
  reported that their community had an active youth
  gang problem.
• 434 different youth gangs identified with over
  7,000 youth gang members.
• Saskatchewan had the highest gang rate (1.34 per
  1,000). Toronto’s rate, by comparison, was only
  0.44 per 1,000.
     Toronto Youth Crime and
       Victimization Survey

• Conducted in 2000.
• Random sample of 3,393 high school
  students from Toronto (response rate: 82%).
• Additional sample of 396 street youth.
• 75-90 minute interviews/questionnaire.
             Fear of Gangs
• Three-quarters of Toronto high school
  students believe that youth gang activity is
  either a serious (23%) or very serious
  problem (52%) in Toronto.
Self-Reported Gang Membership

Never in a Gang   89%     73%

Former Gang
Member            5%      10%
Current Gang
Member            6%      16%
             Gang Activities
Type of Activity   Students   Street Youth
Sell Drugs           39%          76%
Property Crime       40%          53%
Fights               57%          65%
Use Drugs            57%          76%
Sports               64%          50%
Go to Parties        73%          80%
Protection           77%          81%
Socialize            83%          85%
    Types of Gang Membership
Gang Type          Students   Street Youth
Never a Member      88.9%       73.2%
Former Social       2.0%          1.5%
Former Criminal     3.4%          8.8%
Current Social      1.5%          1.8%
Current Criminal    4.2%         14.6%
 Percent of High School Students Who Sold
Drugs in the Past Year, by Gang Membership

          60                                        51

                                                            10+ times
          10      7
                      2         2    0
               Never a Gang   Social Gang   Criminal Gang
                 Member        Member          Member
   Percent of High School Students Who
Engaged in Various Forms of Violence in the
     Past Year, by Gang Membership
          100                                     91

                                                         Carried a Weapon
                                                         Had a fight
                        26            27
           20      11            12
                Never a Gang   Social Gang   Criminal
                  Member        Member     Gang Member
Mean Score on the Self-Reported Crime
    Index, by Gang Membership
18                                                          16.4
10                                              8.3
                      3.1          3.4
 4       2.5
     Never a Gang Former Social Current Social Former      Current
       Member     Gang Member Gang Member Criminal Gang Criminal Gang
                                               Member      Member
 Percent of Students Who Were Assaulted in
    the Past Year, by Gang Membership

          90                              79
          60                  50

          50                                   45    Assaulted
          40      35                                 Assault with Weapon
          20                       10
          10           5
               Never a Gang Social Gang   Criminal
                 Member      Member        Gang
      Mean Score on the Self-Reported
       Victimization Index, by Gang
8                                                           7.4
6                                              5.1
4                    3.2          3.3
3       2.2
    Never a Gang Former Social Current Social Former      Current
      Member     Gang Member Gang Member Criminal Gang Criminal Gang
                                              Member      Member
    Predictors of Gang Membership
•   Gender (males)
•   Age
•   Poverty (housing projects)
•   Neighbourhood influences (deviant peers/family)
•   Family Structure (lack of father/male role model)
•   Educational Performance
•   Social Alienation/Perceptions of Social Injustice
•   Immigration Status
•   Race/Ethnicity
• Is there such thing as a “gang” culture?

• Do gang members have different values and
  beliefs than non-gang members?
     Percent of Respondents Who Feel it is O.K. to
        Assault Someone Because of An Insult

90                                                   80
                                           69   68
60                              51    51                  Personal Insult
50                    42   40
40          33   32                                       Insult to
30     23                                                 Family/Friends
     Never in a Former     Current   Former Current
       Gang      Social     Social   Criminal Criminal
      Percent of Respondents Who Feel it is O.K.
     to Sell Drugs and Steal from Wealthy People

60                                                55
50                                                     44
40                                     35
                            29              30              Sell Drugs
30     24
                                 20                         Steal
20                17 15

     Never in a   Former    Current   Former     Current
       Gang        Social    Social   Criminal   Criminal
             Qualitative Data
• The Toronto Street Gang Pilot Project.
• Detailed, semi-structured interviews with 102
  current (51%) and former (49%) gang members
  from Toronto.
• Age range 16 to 24 years of age (mean age=20.6
• Gang members contacted through community
  centres, social workers, probation offices, anti-
  violence programs. Snow-ball techniques were
  employed within organizations
     Respondent Characteristics
• Mostly Male (82%).
• 70% were born in Canada.
• 61% from single-parent backgrounds; 11% raised
  under child-protection; 23% come from two-
  parent families; and 5% were raised by other
  relatives (mainly grandparents).
• 41% of all respondents self-identified as black,
  37% are white, 9% are Hispanic, 7% are Native,
  3% are Asian and 3% are South Asian.
• 60% were raised in public housing projects.
        Gang Characteristics
• 96% of respondents said that their gang had
  a name.
• 93% said that their gang had distinctive
  symbols, colours or tags.
• 72% said that new gang members had to be
• 88% said that their gang had a specific
  territory or turf.
         Gang Characteristics
• Mean age of first gang involvement=14 years.
• Mean age of gang exiting=20.5 years.
• Minimum gang size: 5 to 10,000 (median=20);
  Maximum gang size: 5 to 10,000 (median=34.5).
• Minimum age of gang members: 10 to 18 years
  (median=14 years); Maximum age of gang
  members: 17 to 80 (median=27).
Percent of Gang Respondents Who Engaged
         in Various Types of Crime
          Within the Gang Context

                            93           96        97

80              73


40     36


      Fraud   Robbery   Drug Dealing   Violence   Theft
Percent of Respondents Who Carried or Used
   Various Weapons in the Gang Context

100                    89



      Other Weapons   Guns       Knives
    Reasons for Joining and
  Remaining Involved in Gangs
• Why did you first become involved in a
• Why do you think you stayed in the gang
  for so long?
• In your opinion, what are the good things
  about being a gang member? What are the
           Power and Respect
• “It’s like people in my neighbourhood give you
  respect when you is in the gang. They know who
  you are and they don’t mess. Nobody knew me
  before I got involved. Now I’m famous in my
  area. People know me now” (male, 22 years).

• “I like the respect. I like the power. You walk
  into a place with your boys and people notice you,
  ladies notice you. Ya got status, you can swagger.
  People know you ain’t no punk” (male, 19 years).
• “I like it for the money. We made lots of money
  sellin drugs and stealin and ripping people off. I
  got to buy stuff I could not get with no job at
  Macdonalds. In this world ya got to have some
  bling” (male 21 years).

• “Obviously I do it for the cash. If there weren’t no
  money in it I’d be gone. But the cash is good
  man. Bought me a car, some clothes, gave me
  money for the club, got me money to get women,
  gave me money to help my moms” (male 20
          Money and Respect
• I’m not workin at Macdonalds or some place like
  that. That’s slavery. They pay you shit and make
  you dress like a goof and have some punk
  manager order you around. Nobody respects some
  guy flippin burgers or wearing some stupid ref
  shirt at Foot Locker. I make real cheddar in the
  gang, we are our own bosses, and we get plenty
  more respect from people cause of the money we
  got and because we never sell out” (male 22
           Money and Respect
• “It’s like the only jobs they got for poor black
  people is like Macdonalds or Wendy’s or other
  bullshit like that. Low, low pay, no respect. You
  basically just a slave, just a punk while some fat
  owner gets rich. I’m not going down like that.
  I’m my own boss, make way more money and
  don’t sell myself out to shit like that. I’d rather
  die than embarrass myself like that” (male 23
• “In my area, man, if you ain’t with a gang your
  gonna get punked and jumped all the time. If ya
  can’t beat em join em. The gang got your back
  and people don’t mess with you cause they know
  you got backup” (female 19).

• “Hey, one of the reasons I joined is because I was
  scared. Got beat up a couple of times, got jumped
  and had my walkman stolen and my money. I
  needed backup cause I can’t fight these guys on
  my own” (male 18).
          Social Support and
• “The gang is like my family man. They got
  my back. When you need something like
  some clothes or some food or some money
  or a place to crash they are there. When
  you need to talk they are there. When you
  got a beef they got your back. I love these
  guys man. They are my blood, my heart”
  (male 22 years).
          Social Support and
• The guys in my gang, we are all from the
  same neighbourhood. The projects. We
  grew up together from small. They are
  family. It is like us against the world. We
  respect each other, support each other.
  Nobody in the outside world helps, or cares,
  so it is up to us. That’s it man. Family”
  (male 20 years).
            Social Support and
• “They are my friends. I just like hangin out and
  having fun. I just feel better when I’m with them.
  I know they got my back and I’ll always have a
  little money or some help if I need it” (female 21).

• “Can’t really explain it. It’s just fun. When you
  are in the gang and you do things, it is exciting. It
  is a rush. I’ve got lots of memories where we just
  had fun, got high and laughed and clowned
  around. You felt like you belonged to something”
  (male 22).
  Social Alienation and Defiance
• “What chance has a guy like me got in the real
  world. A poor black guy? Schools are shit,
  teachers don’t think you can do the work.
  Nobody’s gonna give me a job. So I’ll get paid
  and live in another way, in another world where I
  can get respect and nobody cares what I look like
  or where I come from. I know I’ll probably die
  young or go to jail, but what other chance is
  there?” (male 22).
  Social Alienation and Defiance
• “I’m poor and white. Poor whites get nothin in
  Canada. I can’t claim racism, can’t get no special
  programming or special help in school. I’m no
  refugee. Your white and a guy so nobody gives
  you any sympathy. They just expect you to be
  okay. Immigrants get all the jobs and breaks. So I
  just give up and will do the crime thing. At least
  you have fun, get respect from your friends.
  When you don’t give a shit you stop worrying and
  it’s not so bad. Drugs and drinking help to” (male
  Social Alienation and Defiance
• “If I thought I could get out and get a real job that
  pays good I would. But I’m not some spoiled kid.
  My daddy ain’t gonna give me a car when I
  graduate and send me to Europe for a vacation.
  Some white kids in my high school just got that
  shit. It’s like they expected it. My mom don’t
  have no money to send me to university. See – I
  got no chance. So I do what I have to do. At least
  I have my pride. I can be brave and fight and
  make some money….but really I’ve just kinda
  given up” (male 24 years).
  Does Popular Culture Matter?
• A number stakeholders also argued that the
  emergence of hip-hop music – especially
  “gansta rap” – has also directly contributed
  to the rise of gangs in the Toronto area.
• The following quotes, for example, were
  provided by a black, Toronto-area police
  officer with extensive gang unit experience.
         The Impact of Culture
• I have seen a variety of reasons over the years
  which include all the traditional social reasons
  which include the following: breakdown of the
  home environment, abuse, sense of belonging,
  socio-pathology, fast money, power, friends in the
  group, etc., etc., etc. However, I believe all of
  these factors have been present in young people
  historically who have been active in criminality
  and deviance (police officer).
         The Impact of Culture
• I believe the number one reason for the
  phenomena is directly attributed to the media and
  popular culture. With the rise of gangsta rap and
  B.E.T. coming to Toronto in 1995/96 there was a
  mass exposure and legitimization of the gangsta
  lifestyle. It romanticized the urban gang
  experience as a legitimate acquisition of wealth
  and status. As such young people began
  emulating that experience. Several young people I
  have dealt with attempt to live their life as though
  they are in one of these videos (police officer).
        Reasons for Violence
• Disputes over territory
• Disputes over “business deals” gone wrong.
• Retaliation (for rip-offs, for attacks on gang
  companions, etc.).
• Disputes over reputation (the Code of the
    Business-Related Violence
• Like if somebody jumped you or ripped you
  off you gotta come back strong. Mainly
  business, like in the drug business people
  man, they will rip you off cause you know,
  you can’t really call the cops. Can’t take
  them to court or nothin. So basically ya got
  to stand for yourself and make sure nobody
  rip you off.
     Violence over Reputation
• Like you would be at the club and some guy
  will try to stare you down and you would be
  like what the fuck are you lookin at? And if
  the guy backs down you like call him a
  bitch and go back to the party. But if the
  dude step to you like he all bad an that you
  need to step up to. I seen lots of fights start
  over shit like that. You just can’t get
  punked….especially if you with your boys.
          Peace Through a
       Reputation for Violence
• You would see beefs cause of money, rip-offs and
  that type of thing. But other times it was like
  about respect. Like if somebody tried to talk to
  your girl and dissed you, or like somebody put
  down your crew, fights will start cause of that. Got
  to fight to keep other people’s mouth shut up.
  People crazy out there, you got to fight so they
  don’t mess with you and so people know not to
  mess. Sometimes it good if people think you a
  mutherfuckin crazy mutherfucker. Then you get
  peace and people back off.
  Reasons for Leaving the Gang
• Fear of violence.
• Arrest – contact with the criminal justice
• Family pressure.
• Getting older (maturation).
• Intimate partners/children.
• Feeling of remorse/need for redemption.
       Unanswered Questions

• Is youth gang activity increasing or

• Is gang activity becoming more serious?
            Research Needs
• Standardization of “gang” definitions

• Standardization of research methodologies

• Longitudinal Studies
              Policy Options
• Enforcement/Suppression: Law and order
  approaches, gang units, tougher sentencing,
  transfer of youth to adult court, etc.
• Intervention: Reform (save) gang involved or
  gang affiliated individuals.
• Prevention approaches. Tackle the issues of
  poverty, child development and social alienation.
  Increase educational, employment and recreation
Prevention/Intervention Strategies
• Early childhood development programs.
• Parental training programs.
• Educational enhancement programs.
• Career development programs.
• Mentoring programs.
• Youth engagement programs (sports, recreation,
  culture, arts).
• Community development programs.
    Diverse Pathways to Youth Violence

• Early Onset/Lifetime Persistent
• Late Onset/Adolescent Limited
• Late Onset/Adult Persistent

• Do different types of youth require
  different types of programming?
• The gang phenomena is an extremely complex
  social issue.
• Easy solutions simply do not exist.
• Only possible solution involves the cooperation of
  all segments of the population (the police, schools,
  social welfare organizations, community
  organizations, employers, youth, etc).
• Must reduce the “battle” over resources and
  competition between claims-makers.
• General population must recognize that this is a
  societal issue that impacts us all – it is not isolated
  in disadvantaged communities.
• Need for high quality evaluation (pre-test/post
  test, control group designs).
• Governments are spending a great deal of money
  on “solutions” without collecting empirical
  evidence on whether programs work or not.
• The National Crime Prevention Centre (Public
  Safety Canada) has recently begun to address this
  void in evaluation research with its recent funding

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