So last time we discussed some of the context and parameters surrounding the New Jersey Street Gang Survey. Let’s look at some of the more interesting findings of the survey.
First, the authors (on page 17) describe the overall gang environment this way:
…this data appears to support the assessment that New Jersey’s gang environment –as measured by the perceptions of municipal law enforcement agencies in the state– can best be described as ‘mature’ and more-or-less at equilibrium.
They base that upon the following data points:
- “…fewer than half of all respondents (45% or 254 municipalities) indicated the presence of gangs in their jurisdiction during the previous 12 months. This
proportion remained virtually unchanged from the previous survey in 2007 (43%)
- The number of respondents unsure whether gangs were present in their jurisdiction remains low (2% of all respondents), possibly indicating that widespread availability of gang awareness training for law enforcement has been effective in allowing local police agencies to identify basic aspects of the gang threat in their communities.
- Ninety-five (95) municipalities consistently reported the presence of gangs in all three surveys from 2004 to 2010, and 142 municipalities consistently reported the absence of gangs.
- In 30 municipalities (average pop. 9,817) that responded to all three surveys, the presence of gangs was reported for the first time in 2010. Conversely, nine municipalities (average pop. 19,370) that reported a gang presence in both 2004 and 2007 were ‘gang free’ in 2010.
- The proportion of 2010 municipalities reporting increased gang activity dropped dramatically compared with levels recorded in both previous surveys; 40% lower than the number of municipalities reporting increased gang activity in the 2007 survey. At the same time, the number of municipalities reporting either no change or a decrease in gang activity increased significantly.
So, overall, I’d say this sets a nice tone for the rest of the document in avoiding the fear mongering and the ‘sky is falling’ mentality we’ve seen far too often in threat assessments over the past few years. In short, things don’t appear to be getting worse than they were in 2007 from a macro perspective.
How good (or bad) that is depends on how bad things were in 2007 I guess.
Next, while there appeared to be a near universal ability to recognize the presence of street gangs (as demonstrated by the very small number of ‘don’t know’ responses to the question of street gang presence) the survey reveled the presence of widespread and significant intelligence gaps among gangs. As the authors describe it:
The survey identified widespread information gaps regarding the organizational characteristics of gangs. The lack of such information makes it difficult to assess the cohesion, capabilities, structure and threat of gangs in many parts of the state.
Now it may be that the survey administrators were simply asking the wrong people about organizational characteristics. It may be that municipal police departments simply aren’t equipped to identify and track questions of organizational structure, cohesion, intent, ideology, and criminal activity that may span jurisdictions. Since the State Police were conducting this survey and asking these questions can it be assumed that they don’t know the answers? In that case, who would? Expecting the federal authorities to be able to have such an understanding of the 244 distinct gangs (let alone the 1,575 gang sets) within just one state might be more than one could reasonably expect. In short, it may mean that no one really has a good handle on these questions.
While so many gangs were identified in the survey, it’s interesting that there were some noticeable absences. Again, from the report:
Prior investigations…have identified the presence of a wider variety of criminal networks that meet the definition of street gangs than are reported in this survey. Criminal networks with identities and members tied to nations or regions in Europe, Asia and Africa have been common in New Jersey and the surrounding area for decades, and the lack of any mention in the 2010 Street Gang Survey is worthy of note.
It is unclear whether this reflects a perception among respondents that criminal organizations originating in other regions should not be considered street gangs; if these other criminal networks no longer are present in the state; or if they recently have been successful in avoiding the notice of law enforcement.
Very interesting because this may indicate a bias (intended or not) about what gangs are that overlays any legal definition that our criminal justice system uses. New Jersey has a number of large, ethnic populations and immigrant communities, many of whom have brought with them or developed an organized criminal component. Certainly some academics have reported the willingness to label criminal networks of young minorities with the ‘gang’ moniker with more frequency than similar networks of white youth. This could be a serious intelligence gap since if criminal networks like those from Albania, Vietnam, China and other places aren’t captured as ‘gangs’, under whose watch will they be?
You may have occasionally heard, over the years, about the dangers of prison radicalization. Particularly the dangers of radical Muslim clerics converting criminals to Islam and convincing them to take up jihad. This report doesn’t discuss that directly but asked some questions about radicalization and the influence of prisoners on gang activity on the streets. The results indicate that, at least in New Jersey, this isn’t a big problem:
Of the 254 municipalities reporting the presence of a gang in the 2010 Street Gang Survey, less than one dozen reported gangs involved in extremist ideologies.
It should be noted here that some gangs that were included in the survey were various white supremacist groups who you would associate with the term ‘extremist ideology’. Some of those groups were identified as possessing extremist ideologies but others were not which raises some questions. I mean, what’s the point of being a skinhead if you aren’t a racist? Those few answers may have been the result of survey fatigue or some of the same biases which led to some criminal groups not being included as I discussed above. It may be that the term ‘extremist ideology’ carried some sort of connotation which the respondent couldn’t apply to the group(s) in his/her jurisdiction.
In any case, let’s not get too worried about legions of ex-cons wanting to institute Sharia law.
I have no idea how popular radical or extremist ideology is in prisons but if the responses given in this survey is correct we might want to think of prison a bit like Las Vegas: What happens there, stays there. Except of course, there aren’t any hookers, booze or Circe de Soleil shows in prison.
Perhaps because I had a rather bad school experience I’m always considering the parallels between prison and schools when it comes to gangs. Not being a parent myself, I’m not sure if the findings in the report are reassuring or not. Among municipalities that reported the presence of gangs…
Half (50%) of those municipalities did not note the presence of gangs in their schools, while 46% of municipalities did have a gang presence within their schools.
That means roughly 20% of municipalities in New Jersey have schools with a gang presence in them. While that (just like gang presence generally) is essentially unchanged from 2007, I don’t know if I have enough information to put that number into a wider context.
Some common perceptions of gangs came in for some rough treatment from the survey. For example:
More than half of all gangs identified in New Jersey have fewer than six members
Half of all gangs were not reported to be involved in drug distribution crimes.
Relatively few gangs are reported to be engaged in inter-gang conflict.
While we’ve all heard of gang rivalries (e.g. bloods vs. crips) the data seems to indicate that intra-gang conflict (bloods vs. bloods, etc.) is ‘at least as common’. In short, Blood is NOT thicker than water.
The latter half of the report is a number of specific gang profiles based upon the survey data. Each of the 14 profiles goes into more detail about the gang’s criminal activity, membership and organizational characteristics. Check it out and amaze your friends with your ability to spout obscure gang details.
Next time: Product response…