Violence in New Jersey: The Impact of Gangs

Katherine Hempstead, Director Office of Injury Surveillance and Prevention Center for Health Statistics November 3, 2006

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Office of Injury Surveillance and Prevention
Analyzes and disseminates information on all types of injuries Assists those engaged in injury prevention activities throughout the state

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New Jersey Violent Death Reporting System
Surveillance project designed to provide detailed information on homicides and suicides Information disseminated to assist in violence prevention efforts statewide

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…in our country, the greatest threat to the lives of children and adolescents is not disease or starvation, but the terrible reality of violence.” Surgeon General David Satcher, 2002 Report on Youth Violence

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Violence is a public health issue
Interpersonal violence is a major cause of injury and death to adolescents and young adults Homicide is the second leading cause of death for those aged 15-24 years In 2004, 120 homicides in this group, as compared with @160 motor vehicle deaths
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Age distribution of homicide victims: 2004 deaths
120 100 80 60 40 20 0 < 15
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15-24 25-34 35-44 45-64


Racial and ethnic distribution of homicide victims: 2004 deaths
250 200 150 100 50 0 Black
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Long-term trends in homicide
Between mid-1960s and 1980, homicide rates rose sharply Rates declined during mid-1980s Began rising again, peaking in early 1990s Homicide declined sharply since early-1990s Since 2000, the number of homicides in New Jersey has been increasing – trend is less pronounced nationally
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Homicides in New Jersey, 1992-2005
























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Homicide Rate per 100000, New Jersey, 1992-2005






0.0 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005

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Homicide trends
After a period of declining homicides, we have returned to the levels of the early 1990s The number of homicides has increased by over 30 percent since 2000 The homicide rate has increased over 25 percent since 2000 Homicides are at their highest level since 1993
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Homicides in New Jersey by age of victim, 20002005













Under 10

10 - 19

20 - 29





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Homicides have risen most among young adults
Percent increase in homicides, 2000-2005









0% 15 - 19 20 - 24 25 - 29 30 - 34 35 - 39 40 - 44

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Are all kinds of homicides increasing?
Several major categories of homicide
Family –
Intimate Partner Child Abuse

Committed during a felony Other arguments/quarrel Drug-related/ gang-related circumstances unknown
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Trend in homicides by type
Family homicides have been declining steadily over past several decades Homicides resulting from arguments, and committed during felonies, have declined as well - but stabilized since 2000 Homicides with circumstances unknown, drug-related or gang-related have risen

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How do we measure gang activity in New Jersey?
Database on gang members Survey data on gang presence in New Jersey municipalities Signs, symbols, grafitti and tattoos…

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How do we measure impact of gangs on violence?
Difficult to measure Homicides can be classified according to whether or not “gang-related” “gang-related” – can be divided into:
“gang-motivated” versus “gang member”

but often – no information is available Non-fatal injuries – even less information
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Current sources of information on homicide circumstances
Police reports UCR/SHR Medical Examiner’s report Death certificate Newspaper articles

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Using these sources – explicit mention of gang- or drug-relatedness
60 50 40 30 20 10 0 2003
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Clearly this is an understatement
There are types of homicides we associate with gang activity: Young male victim Weapon used – usually firearm Attack occurs in public place Multiple victims and/or multiple suspects No other known cause

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Broader definition: “gang*”
(Circumstance associated with gang violence
i.e. gang-related, drug-related, bystander

And… No circumstance not consistent with gang) Or… No circumstances known And for all: Suspect is not relative or intimate of victim
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About 40% of homicides in 2003-2004 fit this definition
800 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0 2003
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379 310

Total Gang*





Over 70% of these homicides occurred in 8 cities
Newark Camden Irvington Paterson Trenton East Orange Elizabeth Jersey City Total
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94 48 19 14 13 13 11 10 222

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Racial and ethnic characteristics of gang* homicides, 2003-2004
80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0
% Black % % White Hispanic
8 Big cities Elsewhere

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Weapons used in gang* homicides, 2003-2004
90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0
% Guns
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8 Big cities Elsewhere

% Knives

We often hear about the “epidemic” of violence We also often hear: “Violence is not a disease. It is a learned behavior. Therefore it is preventable.”

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Types of prevention strategies - public health approach
Primary – general population Secondary – at-risk groups Tertiary - those with the condition

To develop prevention strategies, need to think about causes of problem, identify groups to target
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Why is gang activity increasing now? One theory:
• •

Explosion in youth violence:
Youth violence/delinquency has been rising steadily since 1980s – didn’t decline like other crime indicators - continuation in trend

Cohort theory of boom in youth violence – “super-predators” have arrived

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National data suggests juvenile homicide offense rates have not increased since 2000

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New Jersey, 2005 (UCR)
6 % of cleared homicides were juvenile offenders Most frequent offender and victim group: 25-29 year old males Current increase in violence is not exclusively a youth problem Majority of criminals and victims are adults
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Implication for prevention:
Can’t target all efforts at youth Most people committing violent offenses are not adolescents They are not affected by programs in schools, parent education….. Fewer prevention options with adults

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However, gang membership is growing…
Gang membership is a significant and positive determinant of violence
Even controlling for family and community characteristics, and delinquency of peers Several longitudinal studies have established this

So deterring gang membership is an important step in violence prevention

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Why do youths join gangs?
Community Family Individual In particular: Attachment to delinquent peers Low attachment to family and school “Street socialization”
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Gangs and delinquency
Delinquency precedes gang membership But usually increases after joining Gangs have an independent effect on criminal behavior But those who join gangs are not randomly selected

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Primary prevention
Schools are a major site,
G.R.E.A.T. (AZ), other examples

Parent education Community programs
After-school programs, etc.

Evaluations of these kinds of programs show modest success….could have long term effects….difficult to measure
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In New Jersey: Community Partnerships for Healthy Adolescents
Grants from Division of Family Health Services, NJDHSS

Gang awareness, bullying prevention, anger management, peer-to-peer conflict mediation
Bergen Family Center Sussex County Gang Awareness Task Force Montclair School District Perth Amboy

Many similar programs funded by DHS, DOE, etc…
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Secondary prevention
Programs that target those identified as being at especially high risk Ex: BGCA – provides case management, special training, increased alternative activities Ex: Early intervention programs that identify disruptive boys in elementary schools, visiting nurses…. Good results for some…but expensive!
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Tertiary prevention
Targets those already involved in gangs Larger role played by law enforcement Early example, “Operation Hammer” – L.A. More recent example, “Operation Ceasefire” Community involvement important to successful efforts D.O.C. program good example of tertiary prevention – targets gang leaders in custody
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Prevention efforts must be system-wide
Primary, Secondary, Tertiary all important Must target individuals but also macro-level factors No easy solutions

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Reducing gun violence
Important role of firearms in recent increase in homicide has been shown Major problem - illegal guns Reducing proliferation of illegal handguns is important component to reducing fatalities and serious injuries Reducing trafficking and/or getting guns off street
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Reducing inflow of illegal guns
New Jersey has relatively strict gun control laws Most guns used in crimes in NJ come from out of state, where gun laws are looser Jersey City – “One gun a month” purchase law JHU gun violence center - ideas for local and state law enforcement to use to combat gun trafficking: %20Illegal%20Guns.pdf

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Getting illegal guns off the streets
Buy-back program – Jersey City, other jurisdictions – generally modest results “Consent to search” – St. Louis – parent could consent to search home for guns owned by juveniles, no prosecution on gun charges.

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Conclusion: Reducing gang violence
Problem is not limited to youth Violence emerges from complex community, family, and individual, factors – requires a multi-disciplinary approach Successful prevention starts early in life Primary prevention must be coupled with other types Reducing supply of illegal guns is important component of violence reduction effort
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