Gang Units in Local Law Enforcement Agencies

Gang Units in Local Law Enforcement Agencies 

"Gang Units in Local Law Enforcement Agencies" by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 27(4): 7 (Winter 2011). This article summarizes a recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on 365 of the nation's large (100 or more sworn officers) police departments and sheriffs' offices with a unit focusing on gang crime. Currently there are no dedicated gang units in any Alaska law enforcement agencies. A brief bibliography on gangs is included.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) October 2010 report, "Gang Units in Large Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2007," NCJ 230071, looked at 365 of the nation's large (100 or more sworn officers) police departments and sheriffs' offices which had a unit focusing on gang crime. Of 1,084 local police departments and sheriffs' offices law enforcement agencies surveyed in 2007, 365 (34%) reported at least one officer whose sole responsibility was handling gang issues. This BJS special report noted the continuing nation-wide problem of gangs and their impact on the crime level in communities.

Highlights from the report include:

      • Over a third of gang units surveyed were established during 2004-2007. (See Figure 1).
      • About 15 percent of local law enforcement gang units regularly dealt with organized crime families and terrorist organizations.
      • The majority of gang units routinely dealt with street gangs, tagger groups, and motorcycle gangs.
        About two in three gang units spent the greatest percentage of time on either intelligence gathering (33%) or investigative functions (32%).
      • About 9 in 10 gang units monitored gang graffiti (94%), tracked individual gang members (93%), monitored Internet sites for communication among gang members (93%), engaged in directed patrols (91%), and performed undercover surveillance operations (87%).
      • Over 90% of gang units dealt with gangs that were financed through street-level drug sales.
        Nearly half of gang units took part in prevention programs with youth gang members.
      • About 6 in 10 gang units participated in a local or regional gang task force in 2007.
      • Nearly all (98%) of specialized gang units shared criminal intelligence information with neighboring law enforcement agencies.
      • About 30 percent of specialized gang units examined a prospective officer's financial and credit history before assigning the officer to work in the unit.

Note: Alaska law enforcement agencies do not currently have any dedicated gang units.

Figure 1. Specialized Gang Units Established per Year in Large Law Enforcement Agencies, 1975-2007
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