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Improving Criminal Justice and Related Data
Project Description and Background
In order to better inform policy decisions and program recommendations, one of the missions of the Governor’s Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy (OGYVP) is to collect and make available data related to gang and youth violence.
Understanding gang violence in California has always been hampered by the lack of reliable and timely criminal justice data. The only statewide information collected on gang violence is the number of gang-related homicides, reported by local law enforcement agencies to the California Department of Justice (DOJ). OGYVP had reason to believe that the numbers reflected in DOJ’s data files understated the problem, and so sent a survey to all police and sheriff’s departments asking about 1) the accuracy of those numbers for the years 2005 through 2007, 2) the reasons for the inaccuracy (if there were inaccuracies), and 3) the definition of gang-related homicide used by each department. Even we were surprised by the results.
According to DOJ, local jurisdictions reported 1,767 gang-related homicides during the three-year period 2005 through 2007 (2005: 653; 2006: 645; and 2007: 469). In the survey, however, 60 of 178 responding police departments and 11 of 24 responding sheriff’s departments reported significantly more (+1,004) gang-related homicides in their respective jurisdictions than reflected by DOJ, such that the DOJ total represents only 64 percent of gang-related homicides statewide. In other words, California had at least 2,771 gang-related homicides between 2005 and 2007 – not 1,767 as contained in DOJ’s files.
Focusing on the survey results – it appears, contrary to DOJ data – that California’s gang-homicide problem is not improving and may be getting worse, particularly outside of Los Angeles County. Statewide, the number of gang-related homicides (2005: 921; 2006: 978; and 2007: 872) and the percentage of homicides reported as gang-related (2005: 36 percent; 2006: 39 percent; and 2007: 38 percent) remained relatively constant during this period. Outside of Los Angeles County, however, the number of gang-related homicides climbed by 10 percent (2005: 382; 2006: 415; and 2007: 422), and there was a discernible increase in the percentage of homicides that were gang-related (2005: 26 percent; 2006: 28 percent; 2007: 30 percent). Significantly, this increasing percentage is consistent with a decades-long trend found in another study: from four percent in 1981 to 14 percent in 2001 , and now to 30 percent in 2007.
The OGYVP survey asked local law enforcement agencies to provide their best assessment of the reason(s) for the discrepancies they reported. The responding departments cited multiple reasons that focused on both the departments and DOJ: departments must report to DOJ before completing the investigation, department staff need better training, lack of communication between departmental investigators and reporting staff, ambiguities in DOJ forms, and DOJ error. However, it should be noted that the majority of departments (124 out of 178) chose not to answer this question. Finally, the survey asked each department how it defined “gang-related homicide.” As we expected, the surveys revealed two predominant but different definitions – either any homicide in which a victim or perpetrator is believed to be a gang member, or any homicide believed to have been carried out by a gang member to further the interests of the gang.
- OGYVP will publish a report that examines the geographic distribution of gang-related homicide in California through 2007. This report will update prior research published by DOJ that analyzed the period 1981-2001.
- OGYVP will continue to analyze homicide and gang-related homicide data gathered in its first year of operation, make the data available to the public and policymakers on its Web site and make recommendations based on the data.
- OGYVP will convene a working group of chiefs, sheriffs and DOJ to resolve the understatement of gang-related homicides appearing in DOJ files. OGYVP will convene a working group of chiefs and sheriffs to develop a consistent, statewide definition of gang-related homicide.
- Finally, OGYVP will continue to analyze and report juvenile, gang and youth violence data and make policy recommendations.
Related Documents and Reports
- Differences in Homicides and Gang-Related Homicides as Reported by Law Enforcement to CA DOJ and OGYVP Survey, 2005-2007 (.pdf)
- Total Number of Homicides and Gang-Related Homicide as Reported by Law Enforcement to CA DOJ and OGYVP Survey, 2005-2007 (.pdf)
- Variations in the Definition of “Gang-Related Homicide” (.pdf)