Usually when the topic of gangs arises, the discussion includes the fact that these groups are problematic and a danger to society. While this is true, there is a shift toward understanding gangs on a deeper level, and develop ways to intervene and suppress gang activity. Given the opportunity to speak with a probation officer, I was able to obtain a better understanding of gangs and the surrounding community.
A few key points I took from my interview were gangs can be more complex and are run with great intelligence, and those who are in gangs can come from many different backgrounds. Once the importance of understanding gang culture becomes established, communities can come together to implement programs and strategies to start diminishing the gang violence that surrounds them. I decided to focus my interview on my criminal justice practitioner’s background in relation to gangs, his knowledge on gangs, and ways community involvement help to diminish gang activity.
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Probation Officer Background In order to get a better understanding of gangs, I contacted Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction Probation Officer Steven Davis for an interview. I wanted to get a better understanding of his background and his experience with gangs. Officer Davis is from Harvey, Illinois, moved to Minnesota to attend Concordia college, and interned with Hennepin County adult probation. This is where he decided to take a turn toward juvenile probation. Davis stated, There is a lot of gray areas when it comes to determining what is best for juveniles versus adults.
With adults, it is either you go to jail or prison. When it comes to juveniles, especially the ones with the Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction, there is a sentence hanging over their heads. But this encourages more low risk behaviors since this will follow them until they are twenty-one years old. I circled back to where Officer Davis grew up and his experience with gangs in Illinois. He told me he had a few friends that were in gangs, which quickly led Davis to separate himself from those friends. I asked him how he was able to overcome the peer pressure from his friends to join gangs, and he told me he had outlets such as sports, and he did not want to disappoint his mom. This answer made me think back to Thrasher’s theory on the risks for gang involvement.
Unlike Davis, a lot of juveniles come from poor environments and have inadequate forms of recreation, which lead them to make poor decisions and enter gangs in order to receive the love, attention, and validation they were lacking. Gang Knowledge and Awareness Officer Davis’s unit is focused in North Minneapolis, which is notorious for gang activity. I asked Officer Davis what he would rank himself on familiarity with gangs or knowledge on gangs on a scale from one to ten. He rated himself a six, which is when he gave me a map of the general location of gangs in North Minneapolis and explained the rivalries were separated by Broadway.
He also mentioned the term clique based gangs, which we talked about these hybrid gangs in class and other readings.In the Hybrid Gangs and Other Modern Gangs article, Starbuck states, …there are youth gangs that do not fit the mold’ of any particular gang category(2001, p.5). The youth that are in these gangs do not follow the traditional codes and ethics of the mother gangs they may have originated from. Examples of this would be that members may change affiliations or change the colors that they wear and display. These kinds of things would not happen if they were in a mother gang.
I then asked whether he was aware of how many of his clients were affiliated with gangs, and he stated that around 70% had some gang affiliation. About half of my clients are open about their gang activity, but there is also an agreement they need to follow where they cannot have any contact with fellow gang members(S. Davis. personal communication, September 27, 2018.). It is fairly easy for Officer Davis and other probation officers in his unit to find gang affiliation through social media accounts and postings. I mentioned one of my articles, and how youth in particular use E-thuggin, or using social media accounts to get a rise out of rival gangs and demand retaliation from these gang members. Officer Davis said that it is important to be aware of this, especially since gang violence is being broadcasting to a wide range of people, and where any of us can see what violence may take place in result of a threatening post. Community Involvement and Gang Suppression Officer Davis could not stress enough how important community involvement is when it comes to fighting to eliminate gang activity.
I asked Davis if members and parents of the community have come to his department about gang related issues and if there are any programs that were developed to help reduce gang violence. First, he told me about the Gang Violence Intervention program, which was developed in order to be a deterrent. GVI partners gang members with police officers and adults that used to be gang members in order to have them discuss problems they’re having, for which the ex-gang members and officers persuade the youth gang members to end their involvement in gangs and there are outlets there for them.
The initiative is very new and is still making many changes. Also, Officer Davis spoke highly about MADDADS, which is Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder. This group was founded in 1989 by a group of concerned African-American men and parents who were tired of the gang violence and illegal flow of drugs in their communities. Activities that this group implemented are designed to promote a positive image of fathers protecting their communities and the members in it. This form of community involvement is especially effective because of previous gang members that are compelled to talk to these youth and give them advice on how to separate themselves from gang life.
In the Gang suppression article, Ron Chance stated, Activities such as gang surveillance and crisis intervention by probation should be coordinated with similar activities by criminal justice and community-based youth agencies (1994, p.5). Chance also reiterates the purpose of activities that are community based that keep youth accountable while also providing an outlet that will deter them from gang activity. To conclude, community involvement will make all the difference when it comes to getting youth involved in programs that will benefit them, and encourage them to make a change because they know the community is there for them.
In summation, my interview allowed me to understand a criminal justice practitioner’s perspective on gang activity in their community and how there are ways to intervene and suppress gang activity. Officer Davis was able to give me information about his own clients and different ways his department and the community are trying respond to the gang problems. The community and departments come together to find effective methods and programs to intervene in gang activity and make their neighborhoods safer.
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