Define your gang problem in schools (before addressing it)

By Derrick R. Crews
Gang Prevention Officer
Kernersville Police Dept.

Gang activity is a hot topic facing school resource officers. In our rush to combat the problem, we tend to forget one of the basic elements needed to create a solid prevention plan. This necessary element is simply to define your problem. While seemingly insignificant, without clearly defining your problem, you cannot solve it.

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) tells us time and again, “It is wise... to define a problem adequately before adopting a response strategy... especially in the sphere of street gangs.”

Defining gangs and gang activity doesn’t have to be difficult. In addition to state gang associations or school policies that define gangs and gang activity, thirty-seven states have legislation defining the activity. Don’t reinvent the wheel. You may need to customize the definition to fit your needs. Remember, the more specific you make your prevention plan, the better off you are.

Having a definition can help prevention plans in many ways. Here are some examples.

• Staff should have a basic understanding of what a gang is, what gang activity can encompass, and what behavior is unacceptable — this will help unite the overall efforts to stop gang activity
• Enforcing school rules can be applied more fairly and should be consistent across the entire student population.
• Students should be advised what behavior is recognized as gang related — once informed, they are responsible for their actions and the consequences
• When gang related disciplinary actions need to be taken, you can readily justify your response based on the definition of the problem

Clear definitions may not be the magic element to your prevention plan but most successful programs have clearly defined problems. This allows you to build effective strategies to address the issue. If you would like to learn more about this idea, read Street Gangs and Interventions and Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 60 Small Steps.

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