How Gang Violence Contributes to Homicide Rates: Study

Violent behavior is commonly associated with gangs and the nature of gang homicides are often unique when compared with non-gang homicides. For example, gang homicides are affected by relationships between gangs and are often driven by violent acts of retaliation, or out of fear. Further, gang homicides have an influence on the cycle of victimization that impacts relationships between gangs, violent acts of revenge, and safety. These dynamics can also be affected by a plethora of factors (e.g., social, economic, political, cultural, behavioral) that are salient within a specific area or neighborhood. These factors influence things like subcultures of violence and levels of gang membership, which unsurprisingly can increase the gang homicide rates. Understanding these dynamics is very important for addressing homicides nationwide.

A recently published 2022 study in Deviant Behavior sought to do this using a nationwide sample generated by the National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS). In the study, the authors examined the probability of gang-related homicides in relation to various community and local factors related to gang violence. The results showed that drug-related factors as well as inter- and intra-gang conflict were the most likely to increase the probability of gang-related homicides in a jurisdiction. While many factors may influence the likelihood of gang violence, it appears that specific factors are more likely to result in more serious issues such as homicide.

The authors analyzed reports provided by law enforcement as part of the National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS) conducted in 2012. The data were obtained at one period in time from a sample of more than 2,500 police departments. Responding jurisdictions were of varying population size, ranging from large cities of 50,000 or more, to suburban areas with populations as low as 2,500, and rural areas with even smaller populations. This data is a nationally representative sample of law enforcement jurisdictions from across the country, making it ideal for the current study. The dependent variable was the number of gang-related homicides occurring within the past year. This was calculated using crime data, and police department assessment of the incident determined whether it was gang-related. The independent variables included other factors that were believed to influence gang violence (e.g., drugs, inter-gang conflict) in a particular jurisdiction, and were based on law enforcement perceptions.

Results revealed a significant and positive association between gang-related homicides and drug-related factors, intra- and inter-gang conflict, and population size. Additionally, places where gangs had lengthier histories of problematic behavior also saw increased risk for gang-related homicides. Most impactful were drug-related factors, with jurisdictions reporting drug-related factors as a prevalent issue suffering a 126% greater risk of gang-related homicides. Secondly, jurisdictions reporting inter-gang conflict as a serious issue saw a 79% greater risk of gang-related homicides, and those citing intra-gang conflict as a serious issue had a 63% greater risk of gang-related homicides.

Gang crime and violence are huge problems that are difficult to address, so learning about what characteristics might contribute most to homicides is extremely beneficial. This is particularly useful in areas with funding constraints; if jurisdictions are not able to effectively address all the issues that gangs are causing, they can focus on alleviating the most serious problems (i.e., those related to homicides). One possible method mentioned by the authors is to adopt focused deterrence strategies that aim to reduce all types of offenses, including homicide. Intelligence-led policing also might be a viable option to identify gang members and prolific offenders by gathering intelligence about them (e.g., where they reside, what crimes they engage in, what gang they are involved with) in advance so that efforts might be more efficiently targeted.

Given the potential for various factors contributing to gang violence and homicide, it would be beneficial to study gang-related homicides further to provide more insight on what law enforcement should focus on beyond traditional gang suppression tactics. Relatedly, future research should examine whether the presence of multiple gangs in one area influences gang-related homicides due to increased potential for inter-gang conflict.

In summary, the current study revealed how different jurisdiction-level factors can contribute to gang violence and the probability of gang homicides in an area. Gang violence is a complicated issue, but focusing on specific determinants of gang violence (e.g., drug-related determinants, inter- or intra-gang conflict) will likely decrease violent activity related to drugs and gang rivalries. Subsequently, this would decrease the rate of gang-related homicides, which would ideally result in an overall reduction in homicides nationwide.

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