Gangs and gang violence have become increasingly complex, lethal, and resistant to prevention and control over the years. Overreliance on one strategy is unlikely to produce fundamental changes in the scope and severity of a community’s gang problem. Instead, communities should adopt a comprehensive, multifaceted, collaborative approach that involves prevention strategies for youth at risk of gang joining, intervention strategies for youth and young adults who are gang-involved, and suppression strategies in areas where gang violence threatens the public safety of a community.
A community’s responses to its gang problem must be based on a solid theoretical understanding of gangs—their social patterns and individual member behaviors—as well as programs and practices supported by systematic research and successful experience in the field. Once a community acknowledges that a youth street gang problem exists, a thorough assessment is needed to identify specific components of the problems, analyze the causes, and identify the resources currently available, as well as the resources needed. Such an assessment can reliably measure the scope and depth of the youth and street gang problem in a given community.
Community stakeholder participation should ideally include active engagement from law enforcement agencies, schools, grassroots organizations, youth agencies, government agencies, and civic organizations. Using the assessment as a foundation, key stakeholders can develop a plan to respond to their gang problem that is tailored to the unique needs and resources of that community. Ideally, a community should develop a continuum of developmentally appropriate programs and strategies to target gang-involved individuals at all ages and risk levels. A community should implement strategies that have been demonstrated to work.
There is no quick, easy fix when responding to street and youth gang problems in a community. Both emerging and entrenched gang problems are the consequence of years of compounding, complex factors. A comprehensive, systematic approach to address these complexities will take focused determination and hard work.