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The Myth of Suburban Gangs: A Changing Demographic

Westside Norteno 14 in Cobb County.  Picture Confiscated during arrest, Sept. 20, 2003.
A photo of Westside Norteno 14 in Cobb County, Ga. Photo confiscated by Cobb County CAGE Unit, Sept. 20, 2003. Courtesy of Rebecca Petersen.

When most people think of gangs and the criminal activity often associated with them problems of the inner-city may come to mind -– issues that are far from their manicured suburban lawns, something that could never touch their lives directly.

But the demographic makeup and geographic location of gangs are changing, according to Rebecca Petersen, author of Understanding Contemporary Gangs in America and a Criminal Justice Professor at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta*.

“We have seen this trend of gangs moving out of the city and into the suburbs for 20 years now,” Petersen said. “We don’t associate the suburbs with people being poor or homeless, but it’s one of the fastest growing populations [in the suburbs].”

While gangs are not exclusively comprised of low-income members, the correlation between harsh economic conditions and the proliferation of gang activity has been documented in communities around the country since at least the late 1980s.

In the decade leading up to 2010, the suburban poor in major-metropolitan suburbs grew by 53 percent, compared to an increase of 23 percent within the cities, according to the Census Bureau. As a result, the majority of the traditionally urban poor population now resides in suburban communities throughout the United States. In 2010, suburbs housed about a third of the nation’s poor, outranking major urban centers that accounted for about 28 percent of the impoverished population.

Part of the problem, Petersen noted, is that many suburbs and outlying towns don’t have well developed social support systems or infrastructure to deal with the influx.

A number of factors contribute to the shift of population to the suburbs, including immigration, availability of affordable and subsidized housing and economic stagnation. According to a 2009 study by the National Youth Gang Center, quality of life issues, such as employment or educational opportunities, were the most significant factors in gang member migration, and not the expansion of existing criminal activity.

“More often than not it’s not a gang migration, but an individual migration,” said George Knox, Director of the National Gang Crime Research Center, adding that family ties and economic opportunities usually underpin the relocation of gang members. “It’s not as if [a gang] suddenly got together and took a vote on whether to move.”

Nationally, gangs have been migrating from the inner city to suburban communities for more than three decades, starting slowly in the 1970’s and becoming “entrenched in many suburban communities across the nation” during the 1990s, according to the "Attorney General's Report to Congress on the Growth of Violent Street Gangs in Suburban Areas" in 2008. According to the same report, suburban gang migration also contributed to an increase in violent crime, including homicide, within a number of the suburban communities they moved to.

For example, in 2007 law enforcement officials in Irvington, N.J., a Newark suburb, reported 23 homicides for the year – 20 of which were gang related.

“The suburbs just aren’t geared for this type of issue,” Knox said. “Usually [the suburbs are] more vulnerable, and gang members know this.”

According to Petersen, most gang-related violent crime was directed at rival gang members, while a variety of less-serious offenses made up the majority of overall gang criminal activity.

Looking at arrests in Cobb County, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, Petersen found that about 60 percent of gang member arrests were for misdemeanor offenses. The most common crimes included property damage, drug possession, theft and burglary – along with arrests for robbery, aggravated assault and statutory rape.

 

From Atlanta, a closer look:

In metro Atlanta, gangs have long been seen as a largely black, inner-city problem. But when Peterson moved to the city in 2002 she was “shocked” to learn that the majority of gangs were of Hispanic origin and mostly operated away from the city center.

“Immigrants are moving to the suburbs as their first step when arriving here in the United States,” Petersen said, “where before they would typically go to the cities, and then the suburbs.”

In Cobb County, Ga., the focus of Petersen’s recent research, Hispanics account for about 74 percent of the known gang population – a demographic trend that is mirrored in national data.

“All you have to do is drive up and down the highway in Atlanta to see the evidence of gang migration,” Knox said.” There’s MS 13 (a notorious Hispanic street gang) markings prominently displayed everywhere.”

Unlike in the past, many of these gangs don’t claim “turf,” or a given geographic area with strict boundaries, as their own, Petersen said. Instead, members can be scattered across a wide area and often travel outside their own neighborhood to commit criminal activity.

Gang recruitment, especially among Hispanics, largely takes place in middle school where kids are still impressionable and have a stronger desire to fit in than older teens, Petersen said. For law enforcement, it’s also a time to drive home the dangers and consequences associated with gang life.

Since Cobb County’s inception of the Cobb Anti-Gang Enforcement (CAGE) Unit in 2002, the operation has documented more than 53 different gangs with more than 600 known members. Petersen said the actual number of gang members is likely three times that of known members.

Gang involvement declined throughout the late 90S until hitting an all-time low in 2003. Since then, the number of gangs around the country has slowly crept back up, but still hasn’t hit previous highs. Gang activity continues to be largely centered around major metropolitan areas, with two-thirds of all gangs residing, the National Gang Center reports.

 

*This is a publication of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University.

A Look Inside Atlanta Public Schools [INFOGRAPHIC]

INFOGRAPHIC: a look inside Atlanta Public Schools. --CLICK TO VIEW--When the U.S. Department of Education released the latest installment of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), statistics covering the 2009-10 academic school year, last week it made headlines around the country.

The CRDC represents a wealth of information from just about every corner of our country’s educational landscape. The report also shined some light on a number of gaps in educational opportunity and discipline on a national scale. Every state, school, district and county with a public school system is in there with detailed numbers attached.

The Office of Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Education, has been collecting CRDC information since 1968 to help identify gaps, disparities and trends in educational achievement and opportunities. The work was suspended briefly in 2006 under then President George W. Bush, but was reinstated and expanded by President Obama last year — collecting data for the first time on things such as law enforcement referrals for students.

“For the first time we have an incredible new source of data that tells us where opportunity gaps are in ways we’ve never seen before as a country,” Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, said in a telephone briefing with reporters last week following the release of the first installment of the new CRDC data. “In recent years we have more data than ever before on identifying the achievement gap and where it exists.”

The New York Times and other media outlets have done some great and extensive reporting on national trends in discipline and opportunity gaps that surfaced from the data. Among the findings:

  • Black students were more than three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
  • More than 70 percent of students in school-related arrests were black or Hispanic.
  • Black and Hispanic students account for 44 percent of the students covered in the survey, but only account for 26 percent of students enrolled in gifted or talented programs.
  • On average, teachers at high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less annually than their colleagues in other schools.

But one of the biggest benefits of this collection is the ability to drill down to any level, for any district, for any school, anywhere in the nation. Since the JJIE is located in metro Atlanta, we decided to take a look at the Atlanta Public School (APS) system.

Examining the data for the City of Atlanta, a number of the national trends seem to hold true. The percentage of black students suspended or expelled was high compared to the number in the school system, and black enrollment in gifted or talented programs was disproportionately low.

At first glance a handfull of findings from the self-reported data stick out. For example, the average teacher salary of $94,000 seems strikingly high. A look at six counties surrounding the APS district shows a wide range in average salaries:

  • Atlanta - $94,058.90
  • Cobb – $48,372.50
  • DeKalb – $82,488.50
  • Fulton (non-APS) – $38,759.80
  • Gwinnett – $45, 680.30
  • Clayton – $81,138.60
  • Douglas – $125,846.00

But looking at the salary averages across districts can be misleading if you fail to dig into the reporting behind it, Department of Education spokesperson David Thomas said.

"Many comparisons are possible with the CRDC school-level expenditure data, particularly within-district comparisons," Thomas said in an e-mail. "However, data users must analyze the data between states and districts with caution due to variations in the district-selected inclusions and exclusions."

These inclusions and exclusions account  for the wide range of reported average salaries in the Atlanta area.  Here's a breakdown Thomas provided to help clarify:

Breakdown of average teacher reporting inclusions and exclusions for 2009 CRDC data, metro Atlanta.

The new database has only been live for about a week and a number of features – including the ability to easily track trends over the years of available data – are still in the works. If you want to see how your own school or district measures up, visit http://ocrdata.ed.gov/

Here’s a round up of Atlanta Public School statistics from the CRDC 2009:

 

INFOGRAPHIC: a look inside Atlanta Public Schools. CRDC data, 2009.

 

This infographic was originally published on ClayDuda.com.

Early Numbers Show 10 Percent Decrease in Florida Juvenile Delinquency

Early figures show a 10 percent decline in Florida juvenile delinquency reports for FY 2010-2011, ending June 30th.

Delinquency referrals peaked in 1994-1995, according to the Associated Press, with 123 for every 1,000 kids age 10 to 17. Since then the rate has dropped every year to it’s current low of 59 for every 1,000 juveniles in the state.

Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice plans to further reduce the number of referrals in the coming years with an increased emphasis on civil citations in lieu of criminal charges and community-based treatment programs.

While the exact number of juvenile offenders has yet to be determined, the department expects it to be below 110,000 for the year.

Visualizing ‘Generation Text’ [infographic]

"How would you feel if you couldn't text for a day?" Lab 42, a company that specializes in custom surveys, market research and data visualization, asked a survey group of American teenagers. The teens weren't too concerned. After all, they would still have Facebook.

Texting isn't exactly new and isn't limited to a single demographic, but for this infographic the surveyors decided to take a sample from 500 leading textperts - today's teens - through the use of social media networks. The survey resulted in some interesting findings. Check out the image below for the complete results.

The sample group consisted of 500 American teens between the age of 13 and 21. Lab 42 uses "third party survey software" and cross-references survey data with the participant's social networking accounts to ensure the validity of data. While the company doesn't publish their complete methodology online additional information is available by contacting info@lab42.com.

 

Generation Text: Teens & Their Texting Habits Inforgraphic by Lab42