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Establishment of a Police Gang Unit: An Examination of Rational and Institutional Considerations

NCJ Number
Date Published
42 pages
Research that used a multimethodological design sought to determine the factors that led to the creation of a specialized police gang unit by a midwestern police agency and how these factors influenced the gang unit’s response to the community’s gang problem.
The research brought together data collected by means of field observations, interviews, and document reviews during 1996 and 1997. Results indicated support for the institutional perspective. The data suggested that the gang unit resulted from pressures placed on the police department from various powerful elements within the community. In addition, once created, the need to achieve and maintain legitimacy among various sovereigns in their environment was the main factor that influenced the gang unit’s response to the community’s gang problem. Findings differed from others that have suggested that police-created myths have led to gang units. Findings also suggested that the unit’s organization and operations were largely a function of ceremony rather than the need to act in a rational or effective manner. Findings also challenged the notion that specialized police units necessarily increase technical efficiency and effectiveness. The analysis concluded that although the findings provided considerable support for the institutional perspective, they nevertheless should caution researchers in making generalizations about the factors that might influence a police agency’s response toward a community’s gang problem. Future research should examine the impact that both rational and institutional considerations have on the police response to gangs and how these considerations may be contingent on geography and time. Table, footnotes, and 47 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000