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? DEFINITONAL ISSUES • 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 violence. • Must also differentiate between gang membership, gang affiliation and peripheral gang contact. GANG ESTIMATES: • 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 rate). • 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 GANG HIGH SCHOOL STREET MEMBERSHIP STUDENTS YOUTH 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 80 68 70 60 51 50 Percent Ever 40 10+ times 30 20 10 7 2 2 0 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 90 80 68 70 Percent 60 Carried a Weapon 50 Had a fight 40 26 27 30 20 11 12 10 0 Never a Gang Social Gang Criminal Member Member Gang Member Mean Score on the Self-Reported Crime Index, by Gang Membership 18 16.4 16 14 12 10 8.3 8 6 3.1 3.4 4 2.5 2 0 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 80 70 60 50 Percent 50 45 Assaulted 40 35 Assault with Weapon 30 20 10 10 5 0 Never a Gang Social Gang Criminal Member Member Gang Member Mean Score on the Self-Reported Victimization Index, by Gang Membership 8 7.4 7 6 5.1 5 4 3.2 3.3 3 2.2 2 1 0 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 Questions • 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 80 69 68 70 60 51 51 Personal Insult 50 42 40 40 33 32 Insult to 30 23 Family/Friends 20 10 0 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 11 10 0 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 years). • 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 initiated. • 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 120 93 96 97 100 80 73 60 40 36 20 0 Fraud Robbery Drug Dealing Violence Theft Percent of Respondents Who Carried or Used Various Weapons in the Gang Context 120 97 100 89 80 64 60 40 20 0 Other Weapons Guns Knives Reasons for Joining and Remaining Involved in Gangs • Why did you first become involved in a gang? • 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 benefits? 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). Money • “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 years). 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 years). 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 years). Protection • “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 Companionship • “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 Companionship • 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 Companionship • “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 19). 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 Streets). 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 system. • Family pressure. • Getting older (maturation). • Intimate partners/children. • Feeling of remorse/need for redemption. Unanswered Questions • Is youth gang activity increasing or decreasing? • 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 opportunities. 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? Conclusions • 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. Conclusions • 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 program.