Gang injunctions provide short-term relief to communities
In the first study examining how civil gang injunctions affect community members, scientists at UC Irvine and the University of Southern California have found that injunctions provide short-term benefits, such as reducing residents' fear of run-ins with gang members.
The findings also suggest that more significant changes in the community take root slowly over time, and that additional efforts by officials and community members in the wake of an injunction could significantly increase the positive effects. In addition, the research showed that law enforcement should be cautious about the size of the injunction area.
Gang injunctions, which have become increasingly popular in California, attempt to reduce gang activity by prohibiting specific gang members from hanging out together, wearing gang colors or staying out past a curfew.
"The consistently positive short-term outcomes indicate that injunctions are a promising strategy," said Cheryl Maxson, the lead author of the study and a professor of criminology, law and society at UCI. "Injunctions crack the window of opportunity for change, but for enduring community improvements, we need not just a stick but a carrot - such as opportunity for vocational, educational or personal growth among gang members."
The study appears in the current issue of Criminology and Public Policy.
In an effort undertaken with the support of local law enforcement officials, the research team focused on a civil gang injunction in the Verdugo Flats area of San Bernardino, one of the Southern California cities that usually uses such injunctions. Conducting surveys in and around the enjoined neighborhoods before and after the injunction was in place, scientists found positive short-term outcomes for the community. In surveys six months after the injunction was issued, residents in the primary injunction area reported an 8-percent decrease in intimidation by gang members, as well as less visibility of gangs and decreased fear of being confronted by gang members.
But on measures of other changes in the community - such as whether residents experienced less violence, increased sense of social control and more trust in police - the injunction appeared less effective. These community changes, scientists say, might only take hold over longer periods, and may be helped along by additional interventions with residents and gang members.
A number of injunctions are instituted without community involvement, partially because law enforcement fears for the safety of residents publicly declaring their concerns as part of the process. "However, resident involvement and control over their neighborhood is an important step in sustaining any gains from the injunction, so residents should be involved either as part of the injunction process or soon after," said David Sloane, professor in the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, and co-author of the study.
The study also suggests authorities should carefully consider the scope of the enjoined area. In one neighborhood that was included in the injunction despite having a lesser gang problem, scientists found negative effects on residents after the injunction was enforced, including significant increases in victimization and gang visibility. The team says further studies are necessary to understand why this particular injunction area experienced a change for the worse.
Scientists have joined law enforcement officials and other local authorities in their search for ways to reduce the impact of street gangs on urban communities. "We need to have a better understanding of the social processes set in motion by injunctions and the broader intervention components to achieve sustainable improvements for communities and for gang members themselves," said co-author Karen Hennigan, a professor of social psychology at USC's Center for Research on Crime and Social Control. "Studying these processes may help point the way toward longer lasting improvement."
The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.