The Little Village Gang Violence Reduction Project (GVRP) was a comprehensive, community-wide program designed to reduce serious violence in Chicago’s gang-ridden Little Village neighborhood. The main goal of the GVRP was to reduce the extremely high level of serious gang violence, first at the individual youth gang member level, and then at the aggregate (especially gang and community) level.
The foundation of the GVRP was the Comprehensive Gang Model (also known as the Comprehensive Community-Wide Gang Program Model, the Comprehensive Gang Prevention and Intervention Model, and the Spergel Model). The model assumes gang violence is a product of social disorganization and presumes gangs become chronic and serious problems in communities where key organizations are inadequately integrated and where there are insufficient resources to target gang-involved youth. To address these problems, the Comprehensive Gang Model calls for community institutions—including law enforcement, social welfare agencies, and grassroots organizations—to work together using a more integrated, team-oriented approach.
The model identifies five core elements (or strategies) communities should incorporate into their programs to achieve successful outcomes:
- Community mobilization. Local citizens and organizations are involved in a common enterprise. The program should include local police officers, probation officers, community youth workers, church groups, boys and girls clubs, and several local residents who work as a team to understand gang structures and provide social intervention and social opportunities whenever possible.
- Social intervention. The program should reach out to youths unable to connect with legitimate social institutions. A youth, the gang structure, and the environmental resources must be taken into account before the youth is provided with crisis counseling, family counseling, or referral to services such as drug treatment, jobs, training, educational programs, or recreation.
- Provision of social opportunities. Youths at different points in their lives need different things. Older gang members may be ready to secure a legitimate job and need training and education to do so. Younger youths at risk of becoming gang members may need alternative schools or family counseling. The program should provide individualized services for each youth based on his or her needs.
- Suppression. This not only consists of surveillance, arrest, probation, and imprisonment to stop violent behavior, but also involves greater communication between agency service providers and control providers. All providers jointly decide what happens to a youth when trouble arises or when it is about to.
- Organizational change and development of local agencies and groups. All workers need to work closely with one another and collaborate. Former gang members working as community youth workers need to be given as much respect as police officers in the program. Each group can provide important information for the program that the other may not be able to obtain.
The Comprehensive Gang Model was originally developed in six sites throughout the country. From 1992 through 1995, the Chicago Police Department ran the GVRP in Little Village. In 1994, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also launched a series of 4- and 5-year demonstration projects, testing the model in five different cities: Bloomington–Normal, Illinois; Mesa, Arizona; Tucson, Arizona; Riverside, California; and San Antonio, Texas.
The Little Village community, a 5 ½-square-mile area southwest of Chicago’s central business district, was selected because it was one of the most chronically violent gang areas in the city. At the time the GVRP was implemented, the community of 100,000 was 90 percent Mexican or Mexican American, and residents were primarily lower income and working class families. Two major gang constellations existed in the Little Village community: the Latin Kings and the Two-Six. From 1989 to 1992, members from these gangs accounted for 75 percent of all gang-motivated homicides, aggravated batteries, and aggravated assaults in Little Village. The Latin Kings were the more violent and criminal group, while the Two-Six engaged more in property offenses. Gang youth ages 17 to 24 were primarily targeted for services because they accounted for 70 percent of serious gang violence. The program later began to target youth ages 12 to 27.
The project involved a collaboration of personnel from numerous agencies, including two full-time tactical officers, a part-time neighborhood relations sergeant, and a part-time clerical officer from the Chicago Police Department; three full-time adult probation officers; a part-time staff community organizer; and four full-time community youth workers, including a field supervisor who worked under the direction of the project coordinator. Community youth workers were mainly former gang members from the area. An independent community group, the Neighbors Against Gang Violence, was also formed and became affiliated with the project.
Project team members were able to fulfill their organizational missions while targeting hard-core gang youth using a collaborative approach. For example, tactical officers provided information to other project members about gang incidents, and even referred gang members to community youth workers for services. On occasion, community youth workers provided information to police about youth involved in violent gang incidents. They also helped gang members meet probation appointments and requirements. Additionally, probation officers provided information about criminal activities. The community organizer served as a liaison between Little Village residents and the project team.
There was no formal system for referring gang members to the GVRP. Community youth workers in the two gang areas were the main source of program youth contact for inclusion in the program and referral to agency services. Other members of the team, particularly police, often confirmed the appropriateness of particular gang members to be targeted.
The GVRP focused on integrating the five components of the Comprehensive Gang Model. Targeted youth were provided with economic and social opportunities for employment and referrals to social interventions. Suppression efforts by project team members were also accomplished. Efforts to mobilize the community and encourage organizational change and development were not as successful.
The social interventions included a variety of services provided to gang members, such as remedial education, recreational activities (e.g., softball games involving both gangs), counseling in homes and on the streets, crisis counseling, and referral to drug treatment and mental health services. Community youth workers were responsible for reaching out, contacting, and providing a range of limited but intensive services to youth gang members.
Economic and social opportunities were provided through access to jobs and job training, as well as educational resources. At the time the GVRP was implemented, the effects of an expanding economy helped provide opportunities for targeted youth.
The suppression component (i.e., socialized suppression) was implemented through information gathering, gang member monitoring, and criminal activity arrests. Project team members worked collaboratively to implement this component of the model. For example, project police and probation officers were involved in a variety of social problem-solving and community-oriented gang prevention and control efforts, which increased their knowledge of gang problems and understanding of which youth to target for suppression. Community youth workers also functioned as control agents and service providers. There was constant communication among project team members about new and useful information on gang violence and targeted youth.
The GVRP encountered difficulties with the community mobilization as well as the organizational change and development components of the Comprehensive Gang Model. The project developed primarily at the project team level and remained largely independent; it was not integrated into larger agency operations. In addition, a broad-based steering committee was never formed, making the community mobilization process hard to achieve at the broader community level. There was a lack of leadership in the development of a community mobilized approach to the gang problem, and the process was only partially achieved at the grassroots level.
12 to 24
Overall, Spergel and colleagues (2003) found mixed results. The Gang Violence Reduction Project appeared to reduce arrests for violent crimes, serious violent crimes, and drug crimes, but did not have an effect on arrests for property crimes or total arrests.
Total Violence Arrests
The analysis showed significant differences between the three groups in total violence arrests between Time I and Time II. Program youth had a greater reduction of total arrests for violence compared to the comparison and quasi-program youth.
Serious Violence Arrests
The analysis showed significant differences between the three groups in serious violence arrests between Time I and Time II. Program youth exhibited a larger reduction in arrests for serious violence than the comparison or quasi-program youth.
Drug Crime Arrests
Between Time I and Time II, there was a statistically significant decrease for program youth compared to the comparison youth in terms of arrests for drug crimes. In fact, there was an increase in drug arrests for the comparison and quasi-program sample.
Property Crime Arrests
The reduction in arrests for property crimes between Time I and Time II was greatest for the quasi-program group, while reductions were almost identical for the program and comparison groups. However, the difference between the groups was not statistically significant.
There were increases in total arrests between Time I and Time II for all three groups, but there was no statistical difference between the groups.
Perceptions of Gang-Motivated Violence
Residents in Little Village and Pilsen (the comparison community) were asked about their perception of the change in gang-motivated violence. At Time I, 78.1 percent of Little Village residents believed there was a lot of gang-motivated violence in the community, and 77.8 percent of Pilsen residents thought the same. At Time II, 60.4 percent of Little Village residents believed there was a lot of gang-motivated violence in the community, compared to 65.6 percent of Pilsen residents. Although there were declines in both communities, the reduction was greater and statistically significant for Little Village residents.
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