Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of youth gun violence. Research has shown that criminal and disorderly youth gangs and groups vary widely both within and across cities.25 (For example, Boston gangs were small, loosely organized, mostly neighborhood-based groups, unlike Chicago and Los Angeles gangs.) You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Analyses of youth gun violence should combine official data with street-level knowledge to provide a dynamic, real-life picture of the problem. The experiences, observations, and historical perspectives of police officers, street workers, and others in routine contact with offenders, communities, and criminal networks are underused resources for describing, understanding, and crafting interventions aimed at crime problems. Collecting data through interviews and focus groups can help you refine existing practitioner knowledge.26 For example, you can greatly enhance official data on youth gun violence by systematically reviewing and recording the circumstances of each incident in a working-group setting. Crime mapping is also an important tool in assessing youth gun violence. It can provide important insights on the locations of gun crimes, gang turf, and drug markets.

† Interested readers should consult the National Institute of Justice Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety website, at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/maps/.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of youth gun violence, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Victims

  • Before the shooting, was the victim ever arrested, arraigned, or incarcerated? If so, how many times, and for what offense(s)?
  • Was the victim ever on probation or parole? Was he or she on probation or parole when the shooting occurred?
  • Was the victim a member or associate of a gang or criminally active group?
  • What were the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death or injury? Was it gang- or drug-related? The result of a spontaneous argument or other interpersonal conflict?
  • Did the victim know the offender?
  • Did the victim or his/her associates have a conflict with the offender or his/her associates? If so, what was the conflict about? Was there prior violence associated with the victim’s death or injury?
  • Was the victim an innocent bystander killed or injured during a dispute between two gangs or groups?
  • Did the victim own or carry a gun? If so, where did he or she get it, and why? Was the victim concerned about personal safety? Seeking status on the street?

Offenders

  • Before the shooting, was the offender ever arrested, arraigned, or incarcerated? If so, how many times, and for what offense(s)?
  • Was the offender ever on probation or parole? Was he or she on probation or parole when the shooting occurred?
  • Was the offender a member or associate of a gang or criminally active group?
  • What type of gun did the offender use, and where did he or she get it?
  • Did the offender routinely carry a gun? If so, why? Was he or she concerned about personal safety? Seeking status on the street?

Gangs and Criminally Active Groups

  • How many members does the gang or group have?
  • Does the gang or group have any conflicts with other gangs or groups? If so, what are the conflicts about (retribution, race, turf)?
  • Does the gang or group have any alliances with other gangs or groups?
  • What types of crimes do gang or group members commit?
  • Does the gang or group claim turf in particular areas of the city?

Locations/Times

  • Where do gun assaults, gun homicides, and shots-fired calls for service cluster? Do they occur on public or private property?
  • Do the incidents occur where youth commonly congregate? If so, why do youth congregate there? What do they do there?
  • What accounts for the location’s attractiveness? Closeness to home? Access to restaurants, telephones, or video games? Lack of visibility to the police and others? Absence of management or authority?
  • Are other crimes occurring at the location? Is it a street drug market?
  • At what times do gun assaults, gun homicides, and shots-fired calls for service cluster?
  • Why are violent youth converging at specific locations at particular times? Does the timing involve school release, sporting events, parties, or some other common social opportunity?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to youth gun violence:

  • reduced youth gun homicides,
  • reduced youth gun assaults,
  • reduced shots-fired calls for service,
  • reduced gun recoveries from youth,

    It is important to recognize that gun recoveries may initially increase when police start a gun violence-reduction program. If the responses are effective, this initial increase will be followed by a decrease in gun recoveries.

  • reduced youth gun injuries (emergency room data are available from hospitals and state public health departments),
  • reduced severity of youth gun injuries, and
  • greater perceptions of safety among neighborhood youth, other community members, and local merchants.