New Study Shows Need for Improved Data on Youth Gang Violence and Guns in California

For Release: Thursday, February 26, 2009

Includes Statewide Survey of Local Law Enforcement Agencies on Guns and Gang Violence Data Collection

Washington, DC—”The issue of youth gang violence and firearms is defined far more by what is not known, than what is known,” according to a new 57-page study released today by the Violence Policy Center (VPC). The study, Youth Gang Violence and Guns: Data Collection in California, comprehensively reviews California databases containing gang and/or gun information. It examines the types of information being maintained; how it is collected; inconsistencies that may exist; and whether information currently available can help answer questions about youth gang violence and guns. The study also includes responses to a statewide survey conducted by the VPC of California law enforcement agencies.

The study is funded by a grant from The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF). Created in 1992 as an independent, private foundation, TCWF’s mission is to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education, and disease prevention.

Citing unpublished 2006 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) data, the study reports that of the 626 gang-related homicides that occurred in California that year, 94 percent resulted from the use of firearms. Of these firearm homicides, 93 percent involved a handgun. Yet, the study finds, “despite the clear and pervasive role that both firearms and gang violence play in homicide in California, little is known as to how these two factors interact. Despite California’s comprehensive reporting on both homicide as well as firearms ownership and use, the discrete nature of the databases involved, coupled with limitations of the databases and a lack of integration, leave many basic questions unanswered and hinder the development of more effective prevention policies.”

The VPC’s statewide survey of California law enforcement agencies asked about their recordkeeping of incidents involving gang members and firearms. The survey’s responses (which allowed for comments by respondents) illustrate the agency-to-agency disparities in how data is collected. With a response rate of 33 percent (136 of 415) the survey’s findings include:

Only 66 of the 136 respondents stated that they collect information linking specific firearms to use or possession by individuals involved in gang violence.

Thirteen of the 66 collected such information only in cases where the gun was known or suspected to have been used in the furtherance of a crime. Forty-nine of the 66 collected such information for all cases in which a firearm was linked to an individual involved in gang violence—regardless of whether or not the firearm was known or suspected to have been used in a criminal offense.

Eleven of the 66 defined gang violence as the presence of a gang member as either victim or offender AND the requirement of a gang motive for the crime. Fifty-five of the 66 defined gang violence as the presence of a gang member as either victim or offender and did not require a gang motive for the crime.

  • Only three of the responding agencies published summary reports of data detailing firearms and individuals involved in gang violence. Sixty-three of the 66 did not.
    The study calls for improvements in data collection in California, including:
  • efforts to standardize and improve the collection of firearms information, including increased detail as regards make, model, caliber, etc., by local law enforcement agencies;
  • identification of ways to improve data collection by local law enforcement agencies linking firearms to gang violence;
  • efforts to standardize the definition of “gang member” as reported by local law enforcement agencies;
  • exploration of ways to further utilize statewide databases to increase available information on firearms and gang violence;
  • expansion of California’s Violent Death Reporting System to include the entire state and increased participation by local agencies;
  • repeal of the federal ban (Tiahrt Amendment) on the release of comprehensive national crime gun trace data; and,
  • exploration of ways to improve the accuracy and currency of the information contained in the CalGang database.

The study concludes, “For law enforcement and violence prevention advocates to begin answering the questions…how are firearms obtained by gang members, what types of guns and/or design features do gang members favor, how do changes in the design and firepower of firearms affect youth gang violence, and, most importantly, what prevention policies can be put in place to aid in reducing firearms death and injury connected with youth gang violence…, the first step is to recognize that currently the answers to these questions are not readily available. The second is to begin identifying approaches and collaborations to begin the process of answering them.”






About the Violence Policy Center
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

Media Contact:
Georgia Seltzer
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