She says the "first analysis phase included GIS mapping." At the project's conception, it was believed gang activity, when mapped, would reveal what was termed as "hot spots" of activity. However, as it turned out, the opposite was true. In McGloin's words, "Gangs seemed to be everywhere." But even more interesting was the ensuing network analysis.
McGloin defines network analysis as "a technique that focuses on analyzing the pattern of social relationships among groups or individuals." Gathering intelligence and using it to track street gang members and their associates proved an enormous task, mainly due to the size and complicated relationship patterns gangs adopt.
Although the project hoped to identify patterns in street gang orientation, the task force and ensuing study ultimately determined exactly the opposite: the gangs studied were not organized in the type of recognizable hierarchy that characterizes some other criminal organizations such as the Mafia or Asian-based Triad gangs. As a result, the study concluded "collective accountability as a general tactic for gangs in Newark was unlikely to be a successful (sic) in this jurisdiction." That lack of organization makes it more difficult to track, predict and prosecute criminal behavior in street gangs.
Michael Wagers, executive director of the Police Institute at Rutgers-Newark, puts it all in perspective. He says McGloin's study was merely one component of the project and that the task force she referenced in her report never moved beyond the analysis in terms of putting the results into practice However, Wagers says, the intelligence gathered by the task force has been useful when applied to other initiatives.
"Gangs themselves are very disorganized, and again that's what research has shown time and time again," Wagers says the project found. "They don't have the structure that everyone is looking for — that elusive structure, for the most part."
This is critical to both enforcement and prosecution strategy and, of course, a disappointment to officers hoping to apply the strong RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) statutes to gang activity and allow gang leadership to be curtailed with carefully controlled removal of those calling the shots.
The study tended to show the observed gang members in north New Jersey hung around with other gang members as a result of geography, past history and interests, rather than hierarchy within the gang itself.
"But there was no real loyalty to each other and you couldn't identify the real leadership of the gangs," Wagers says. "What you could identify, though — and this is where the process broke down in terms of getting our law enforcement partners to use the information — were cut points (McGloin's definition: people who are the only connection among people or groups of people) between gang members or different groups of gang members, which we thought was important." Wagers says that by taking action against the cut point, it further disrupts the group as a whole.
New Jersey, like most states, went from saying "we don't have a gang problem," to recognizing there is one and it's serious, Wagers notes. "We were hoping with the analysis we could continue to really dig deep, dissect what was going on and help inform law enforcement across the state."
Although the study and its general effects have not had the initial hoped-for impact, Wager says it's helped in laying the foundation for implementing other programs by providing intelligence information that can be applied to future enforcement approaches.
Still, Wagers says, it's important to keep in mind that things change — gangs that are disorganized and without form today may be better structured in the future. "This was just a snapshot," Wagers says.
Scott Decker, chairman of the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Arizona, says the Newark experience is pretty consistent in gang literature. "The public image is that gangs are highly structured, very well-organized," Decker says. "The more one looks at gangs on the street and talks to gang members, the less one sees that."
Decker says the disconnect is largely a product of the different points from which one taps in to learn about gangs and their issues. He gives the example of information emanating from federal agencies and the U.S., Attorney's office. "What they see are the most highly structured, organized gangs because that's what they prosecute with RICO statutes," he says.