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Better Ways to Fight Gang-Related Crime

Better Ways to Fight Gang-Related Crime 

Aug. 30, 2005
Washington Post
By Jason Ziedenberg

Gang-related crimes in Maryland and Virginia show the need for solid information on the scope of the problem and for clear examples of what works to promote public safety ["Anti-Gang Strategies Lack Unity," front page, Aug. 14].

Nevertheless, crime surveys conducted by the FBI and police departments in this region show that even if, as has been reported, Latino gangs have committed 20 homicides in the District and in Fairfax and Montgomery counties since 2000, that figure represents just 1 percent of the region's homicides during that time. Homicides are down in these jurisdictions.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently found that gang violence nationwide has dropped 73 percent from 1994 to 2003. While the perception may be that gang crime is on the rise -- and it may be in some places -- overall it represents a tiny portion of the violent crime we experience.

Additionally, not everyone is equally likely to be a victim of a gang-related crime. African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to report being a victim of gang violence than are whites, and Latinos are more than twice as likely to be a victim of gang violence. Therefore, the proper response is to target prevention strategies at the communities most affected.

Although congressional leaders from Northern Virginia have rallied behind H.R. 1279, the Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005, this bill contains almost no prevention funds and instead would expand the number of ways that the federal government can arrest, detain and imprison people.

The District has not reported a gang-related homicide since 2003. It doesn't need to be turned into a federal laboratory on gang violence, especially when homegrown solutions to the problem have shown promise.

Jason Ziedenberg
Executive Director
Justice Policy Institute

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