Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An Empirical Propensity for Gangsterism

Malcom Klein, retired USC Professor, has designed a 70 question survey that intends to objectively assess the likelihood of a 10-15 year old in joining a gang.

The questions range from how one behaves with their peers, to whether they use Paint, glue or other things inhaled to get high.

Many of the questions are pretty obvious, essentially driving at "if it walks like a gangster, talks like a gangster, acts like a gangster... than it must be a gangster" But some take a more interesting approach: "Did you break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend or did she break up with you?"

The study is part of a new "epidemiological approach". "...drawing analogies between the spread of crime and disease. The focus is shifted from treating "symptoms" of gang activity -- violent crime, for example -- to prevention efforts that will stem proliferation." (from the WSJ)

This surveying is bound to offer some very interesting results, yet I am not convinced that it is really key in stemming the gang issues in America. I think that many of the problems (including problem areas, and susceptible inductees into gangs) are known in addition to their causes. It is the lack of resources and willingness to act that is facilitating the continuation of gang violence and the drug trade. For example, it does not take a 70 question survey to learn that there is a higher chance for a kid in an inner city school to join a gang than in an upper class neighborhood. It is the fact that these schools with high gang populations are not given the resources required to create proper learning environments, or to assist kids that are already on the path of joining a gang. (no counseling for kids with trouble at home, no money for noon meals, no special classes for kids who might have learning disabilities etc.)

I feel that the survey even hints at many of the causes of the problems (drugs, broken homes, violent childhoods etc.) Though a survey would help policy makers hone in, with more certainty, on the biggest causes (and I suppose also on which individual children have a propensity to join a gang), I feel that these aren't exactly mysteries. Surveying can be very expensive and time consuming, rather than wasting resources here, I see it as being more beneficial to tackle the causes and problems we already know exist before developing this "empirical preventative strategy." I think more than anything, such a survey shows the disconnect between governing bodies and the problems faced on the streets.

Read the survey here.