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Specialized Gang Units: Form and Function in Community Policing, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2004
241 pages
This study examined the extent to which community policing and specialized gang units are complementary or conflicting approaches in either principle or practice.
Between 1980 and the mid-1990's, the number of specialized gang units in American law enforcement agencies increased substantially. This was due to the increase in the number of gangs, gang members, and violent crime in many jurisdictions across the country. In addition to the development of specialized gang units, there was the adoption of community policing. The question became whether community policing and the specialized gang units complemented each other or were in conflict with each other. This study, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, began by describing the missions and functions of the gang units in each jurisdiction and the specific types of activities engaged in by gang units. The study consisted of an examination of police responses to gang problems in San Diego and Indianapolis, in order to compare police policy regarding gang control to actual police practices in the context of community policing. The study consisted of two phases: examining police policy and examining police practice. The greater use of discriminate strategies and strategic approaches to gangs in the Indianapolis and San Diego Police Departments appears to reflect the influence of community and problem-oriented policing in modern police agencies. Crime prevention and crime control were seen as reasonable objectives for police in relation to gang problems. However, preventing the formation of gangs is beyond the mission of today’s police agencies. The study suggests that gang units can have an important role in modern policing and should be formed and structured to reflect both local experiences and concerns. There is little evidence that gang units conflict with community policing in principle or practice and have the ability to balance community policing. References, tables and data collection instruments

Date Published: October 1, 2004