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Gun Wars and Community Terrorization: Investigating Longitudinal Gang Violence in New Jersey from a Networked Perspective

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $278,976)

Past research has found that firearms constitute the largest category of weapons used by gang members. Research focusing on Southern California found that over half of violent crimes perpetrated by gangs involved firearms and that inter-gang conflicts became structurally more complex from a networked experience. However, the extent to which firearm usage varies by type of street gang composition, notably gender and race/ethnicity, has been understudied in the extant literature. Building upon exploratory work in this area, the proposed study will examine fifty years of violence perpetrated by criminal street gangs in the State of New Jersey between 1970 and 2019.
This research centers on two primary research questions: (a) To what extent does gang use of firearms spillover into public space and terrorize communities? (b) Among gangs, is the use of firearms imbalanced, and if so, to what extent does networked gun violence vary based on the characteristics of the offending group? This project utilizes multiple sources of data, including court records, news sources, and releases from the Department of Justice and the Attorney General to map the networks of gang violence in New Jersey and investigates the role of firearm violence within the broader context of gang conflict.
We use a variety of social network analysis techniques to explore the structural evolution of inter-group conflict over time, accounting for changes in the victimization of non-gang affiliated community members as well. The use of social network analysis for the study of illicit activity is a growing trend in and security studies. The current study intends to build on recent innovations in the methodological capabilities of network science to implement a trans-disciplinary approach to the research. We anticipate five peer-reviewed articles and three professional presentations resulting from this work. In addition, student researchers will record podcasts to discuss their perspectives on the research and the scientific process.
Findings from the current study can be used to inform decision-making and the strategic allocation of resources for gang abatement divisions. Specifically, the project will provide new insights into the relationship between gun violence and gang-involved crimes in New Jersey, identifying potential relationships between these two justice hazards for the State.

Date Created: August 5, 2022