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Looking at Crime From the Street Level: Plenary Papers of the 1999 Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation; Enhancing Policy and Practice Through Research, Volume 1

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1999
37 pages
Three papers address the financial activity of a modern American street gang, the ethnographic approach to studying drug crime, and the District of Columbia police chief's (Charles H. Ramsey's) views of street crime and its trends and causes in his jurisdiction.
In the study of the financial activity of a street gang, ethnographic research techniques were used to obtain quantitative information. Numerical data on the economic practices of a street gang, including wage and nonwage expenditures, were obtained through the use of participant-observation techniques. The project obtained not only qualitative information on gang members' views, daily activity patterns, household relations, and other variables, but also information on how much they earned, how their earnings changed as they "aged" in the gang, and other quantitative data. Seventy percent of the gang's revenue was obtained from the sale of crack cocaine. The majority of gang members were poorly compensated and faced grave risks. The paper discusses why gang members remain in gangs given these conditions. The second paper profiles the ethnographic approach to studying drug crime. The author shares some of the lessons he has learned from a "street-level" study of crime. The lessons discussed are not to make assumptions about what people believe; rates and types of crime vary by neighborhood; crime rates vary over time; and the drug dealers of the late 1990's are in many ways "control freaks." The third paper advises that gang crime and drug crime persist in the District of Columbia; any crime drop is due largely to a strong economy that offers more job options; the decriminalization of drugs is not the answer; truancy can be addressed by instilling hope; young girls are at increased risk for involvement in gang activity; and community policing provides the opportunity to address some of the community factors related to crime.

Date Published: November 1, 1999