Street gangs have been around for centuries. In the past, most gang activity was limited to the delinquent behavior of neighborhood cliques. However, today gangs often engage in high-stakes narcotics, weapons trafficking, robberies, and other serious and violent crimes. There are approximately 7,400 individual gangs in the U.S., with a total of 400,000 to 500,000 members. Gangs can be found in all major cities, not only in inner cities but in "edge cities" and suburbs as well. A generation ago, fewer than half the cities in the U.S. reported gang activity. Now, 95% of the largest cities and 88% of the smaller cities are afflicted with gang-related crime.
Many law enforcement agencies have started addressing the problem of gangs. Most large city police agencies have anti-crime or anti-gang initiatives. New York City has created an expansive network to combat gang crime.
NYPD has established specific units, which emphasize reducing, gang related criminal activity. These units work hand-in-hand with the NYC Department of Correction's Intelligence Unit (IU).
As police across the nation respond to gang activity, more and more gang members wind up in the correctional systems. Prisons and jails are quickly becoming concentrated gang environments and recruitment centers. Some estimates in certain areas put gang membership as high as six out of every 10 inmates. DOC has identified 12% of its daily inmate population as known gang members, a figure that has been steadily increasing.
Finding A Correctional Response
In an effort to combat this growing gang presence in NYC jails, an interdepartmental Gang Task Force was formed in 1994. The purpose of the task force was to (1) assess the nature of gang activity within DOC facilities, (2) review gang management practices and procedures within the Department as well as in comparative correctional facilities, (3) and to develop recommendations for the promulgation of a DOC-wide policy on gangs.
In January 1996, the initial task force was expanded into the Gang Intelligence Task Force. Its primary function was to gather and validate information regarding individuals identified as members of Security Risk Groups (SRG), and to track and monitor their activities.
While the Gang Intelligence Task Force succeeded in accomplishing its task, it lacked the organizational structure to effectively use the information so painstakingly acquired. Additionally, the SRG information was maintained on several different tracking systems. Given these shortcomings, the decision was made to reorganize the task force and redefine the objectives of its operations. In April 1997, the changes were implemented and the task force became the Gang Intelligence Unit (GIU), and subsequently, Intelligence Unit (IU). In addition, an enhanced computer system was installed as the Department's sole gang-tracking system.
GIU Builds An Invaluable Database
This SRG application tracks the activities of known gang members or other inmates in DOC custody who may be security risks. The SRG system, developed internally by GIU, was designed to include basic personal data, including gang affiliation, and rank, front and side headshots, physical characteristics and markings as well as other data. This array of information is arranged on a number of separate computer screens in the database system. These features enable IU to sort the database and to locate and print out inmate information sheets with photos.
Another source of valuable information arises out of IU investigations of crimes within the jails. All inmates committing crimes in jail are charged and re-arrested by IU.