Gangs have been subjects of extensive empirical research since the 1920s. Scholarly interest in gangs was largely due to gang members’ increased likelihood of engaging in delinquent behavior. Gang members have been involved in criminal activities ranging from drug dealing to theft, property offenses, gun violence, and homicide. In the 1980s, there was nationwide concern about gangs as violent gang-related crimes increased and drew media attention. As a result, important legislation was implemented that made gang membership illegal. These policies were designed to curb gang involvement and de-escalate gang violence. The legislation included civil gang injunctions, the development of gang databases, and the formation and strengthening of gang task force units. Indeed, the policies resulted in an increase of gang unit officers focused on mitigating gang involvement and gang crime. Officer strategies focused on stopping, detaining, and arresting individuals who often fit certain stereotypes. Specifically, officers routinely based gang-related encounters on suspects’ race, age, clothing, gender, and geographic location, focusing mostly on young men of color in economically depressed neighborhoods. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of problems and concerns related to aggressive and biased police behavior surfaced, resulting in questionable outcomes of gang suppression. Research suggests that directed patrols and removing leadership might not be effective. Instead, alternate policies should include policing in conjunction with support from community-based nonprofit organizations and research that accounts for gang members’ experiences of law enforcement strategies.
Christian L. Bolden and Reneé Lamphere
Social networks in gangs refers to both a theoretical and methodological framework. Research within this perspective challenges the idea of gangs as organized hierarchies, suggesting instead that gangs are semi-structured or loosely knit networks and that actions are more accurately related to network subgroupings than to gangs as a whole. The situated location of individuals within a network creates social capital and the fluidity for members to move beyond the boundaries of the group, cooperating and positively interacting with members of rival gangs. Before the millennium, the use of social network analysis as a method to study gangs was rare, but it has since increased in popularity, becoming a regular part of the gang research canon. Gang networks can be studied at the group level and the individual level and can be used for intervention strategies. The concept of gangs as social networks is sometimes confused with social networking sites or social media, which encompasses its own rich and evolving array of gang research. Gang members use social networking sites for instrumental, expressive, and consumer purposes. While the use of network media allows for gang cultural dissemination, it simultaneously allows law enforcement to track gang activity.