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They even help identify individuals who might leave gang life, if given the right nudge , such as an offer of employment. First, opponents of data-gathering say that gang membership is not measured accurately. Social media and hanging out with gang members can create guilt by association. As activist Tamar Manasseh has argued , to the police, any black kid is in a gang. Because of this, police overcount gang members. Second, people of color — particularly blacks and Latinos — are overrepresented in gang lists and this gives the perception of discrimination.

In New York, less than 1 percent of the 17, people in the gang database were white. Critics say these numbers reflect an entrenched policing philosophy that has always criminalized the most vulnerable and marginalized people. Third, gang databases are often kept secret , and as a consequence, there are potential due process problems.

People listed in gang databases are rarely made aware of the designation and have little to no recourse to challenge it. Finally, the consequences of being named in a gang database can be serious. In an era of data-driven policing , these concerns are important.

The Most Dangerous Gang in America: The NYPD by Richard Jeanty

Critics also point to the potential loss of employment and public housing, as well as criminal convictions and sentencing enhancements. He was living in the U. There is merit to all of these criticisms, but a review of the evidence shows the issues are more complex. For example, a study found that twice as many juveniles report that they are gang members than are recorded in police records.

The police are likely undercounting gang members just like they undercount crime, not overcounting. The overrepresentation of people of color in gang databases is not solely an artifact of how the police collect information.

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Studies show that when people self-report that they are gang members, blacks and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be gang members in adolescence and three to four times more likely in adulthood. Police data on gang homicides fluctuate yearly with newspaper articles on gang violence and are reported consistently , especially in agencies with specialized police gang units.

There is also high, but not perfect, correspondence between self-reports of gang membership and the names found in gang databases. Finally, the criteria for inclusion in gang databases have been approved by the courts.

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Eliminating gang databases altogether risks leaving law enforcement hamstrung in their efforts to reduce violence in communities. The opposite of bad data is not no data, but good data. In the s and s, gangs proliferated outside of the urban core of U. At the same time, officials denied their existence. The reports should undergo regular audits.

States like California are showing how to improve information gathering on gang members. An audit of its database, CalGang, led Gov. Jerry Brown to sign legislation requiring law enforcement to notify individuals when they are entered into a gang database and allowing purported gang members the opportunity to challenge the designation. Gangs cross all ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, gender, and geographic boundaries.

They bring fear and violence to neighborhoods, traffic in drugs, destroy property, involve youth in crime, and drive out businesses. Gangs pull teens away from school and home into a life of violence. Gang members have been known to kick, punch, hit, or even kill their victims.

People get hurt if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If gangs or gang members are in your school or neighborhood, you know it. None of these reasons are good reasons to belong to a gang.

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Most likely, you will increase your chances of being injured or killed. Not likely. Over a lifetime, gang members make far less money than those who are not in gangs.


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Joining a gang is like entering enemy territory. Typical scenarios of joining a gang involve violence and rape. Gang members may be killed or injured.