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Strategy: Using State Laws and Ordinances To Combat Gangs

Strategy State laws can help police enforce against youth gang crime, including graffiti, coercion of members, illegal trafficking in . . .


State laws can help police enforce against youth gang crime, including graffiti, coercion of members, illegal trafficking in firearms, and drive-by shootings.

Crime Problem Addressed

Throughout the United States, thousands of youth gangs intimidate neighborhoods, traffick in illegal drugs and weapons, and commit violent crimes. This strategy aims to create laws and ordinances that, when implemented effectively, equip police and prosecutors with an effective tool against gang-related crime.

Key Components

Careful drafting of state laws on street gang activity requires knowledge of gangs' nature, extent, and relationship to crime. Laws drafted have classified buildings in which gang activity occurs as a nuisance that should be abated, increased penalties for drive-by shootings, made repeat vandalism a felony, prohibited the sale of graffiti implements (such as paint) to minors, and provided for special penalties for coercive behavior by gang members. The laws typically increase penalties for violations (e.g., upgrade violations to felonies) or impose mandatory minimum sentences for some offenses.

Key Partnerships

Effective implementation of state laws on these issues requires collaboration among legislators, state and local law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and school personnel. Partnerships among these professionals ensure effective application of laws that counter gang activity and remove chronic and violent offenders from the community.

Potential Obstacles

The cost of enforcing the laws can burden local police agencies. State law enforcement, local prosecutors, and the courts can help through coordinated enforcement strategies and selective application of the laws to community locations where gang activity is most prevalent.

Signs of Success

California's attorney general, legislature, and governor cooperated in designing a wide array of laws to combat gang violence in communities throughout the state. The partnership resulted in enactment of the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, which focuses on criminal street gang organizations. The act provides for felony prosecution of active gang members, felony penalties against adults who coerce youth into joining a gang, and possible life terms in prison for murder convictions involving drive-by shootings. It also outlines penalties for graffiti vandalism and sale of illegal weapons. Other provisions call for publication of a gang-prevention resource guide for community organizations and in-service teacher training in preventing gang violence and drug abuse.

The purpose of the National Youth Gang Center established by the OJJDP is to assist state and local jurisdictions in noting, analyzing, and sharing promising strategies for prevention and suppression of gang-related crime. The center also disseminates gang-related materials through the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse.

Applying the Strategy

Cathedral City, California, applied the law to combat the city's gang problem. After GRASP used the law to identify gang members and enforce against their graffiti vandalism and violence, community incidents of graffiti dropped by more than two-thirds.

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