Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gang-related incidents

As they prepare Incident Reports, Lincoln police officers are presented with a field to identify whether or not the incident was, in their opinion, gang-related. We have encouraged officers to select "Yes" if they suspect a gang tie, because these data are not for evidentiary purposes; rather they are to provide us with a barometer about the extent of gang-related crime in Lincoln.

The gang flag is imprecise, for several reasons. First, only incidents that come to the attention of the police result in an Incident Report. If a crime is never reported, it won't be reflected in the data. Gang crime is undoubtedly under-reported, and I suspect more so than crime generally. Second, even if the crime is reported to the police, we may not realize that there was a gang tie. The relationship may not be apparent, or we may have victims, witnesses, and perpetrators who are no forthcoming and cooperative. Finally, the choice of the gang flag is based on the officers' opinion, and can be somewhat subjective. The threshold for identifying an incident as gang-related can vary from one officer to another.

Despite these limitations, the flags provide a quantitative indicator of what's going on, without which we would have no basis other than anecdotes for assessing gang-related crime. We initiated this flag in our Incident Reports in 2007, so we now have data for 6 years and 11 months. Here it is (click the table to enlarge):

I suspect this will surprise some people. It surprised me a little bit. Three recent gang-related murders certainly have raised some eyebrows around Lincoln, but the data would show a declining trend in gang-related crime overall. Except for vandalism the numbers are small, and do not lend themselves to any meaningful trend analysis. The most significant thing I can tell you from these data is that reported gang-related vandalism (almost exclusively consisting of graffiti) is falling significantly and consistently. Since vandalism accounts for over two-thirds of the total, that decline is driving the overall trend.

Despite the data, you cannot ignore the fact that three gang-related murders have occurred in Lincoln this year. The anecdotal evidence suggests an uptick in gang-on-gang violence, as well. The  numbers may be small, but the warnings signs are clear in the intelligence information we collect. When I diced some of these data a bit more finely, I found that we had 14 gang-related incidents in 2011 that involved firearms, 26 in 2012, and 10 so far in 2013. That spike in 2012 was quite obvious to police officers, and resulted in some targeted strategies this year that have probably interrupted some (but not all) of this violence. No lack of effort by the bad guys, though (including this past weekend) : poor marksmanship has saved our bacon.


Anonymous said...

Im surprised a city Lincolns size orsnt have an actul gang unit. Is there a plan to address the uptick with an actual gang unit being formed, like most other mid to large sized cities have- Comprised of both dedicated patrol units and detectives? Or is the reactive approach working?

LEO said...

Does Nebraska have a State Racketeering charge, or ongoing criminal enterprise charge? Basically a state level RICO charge to combat and dismantle gangs, excellent tool to have.


Anonymous said...

My late ex had a few good ideas in his lifetime. Wouldn't be po ssible with the skyboxes and electronics now days, but he said every gang member should be locked in the football stadium, fully armed. When the last survivor staggers to the gate, shoot him. End of problem! At least util more move in.

Anonymous said...

One thing that I've noticed is that the local media is now naming the specific gangs involved in these incidents, rather than just using a generic label. I'm sure the gangs appreciate this free publicity, since they thrive on it.

Steve said...

If we can have some crimes designated as hate crimes, and increase the penalties for them, why not designate gang-related crime similarly? If we can say a person deserves harsher penalties becaue they are hateful, why not do the same thing for those belonging to a gang, or acting in support of a gang? Putting these misfits away instead of slapping them on the wrist, and putting them away for longer periods, might go a long way toward reducing gang activity.

For example: say someone commits a robbery because they need the money and don't have a job. If it's their first offense, they might get a light jail sentence, or even probation. I suggest that if a person commits the same act as a member of a gang, they go to jail for a long, long, long time.

Tom Casady said...


We have a gang unit. It was formed in 1994, consisting of a single officer. Last year, it was beefed up in response to that spike in firearms-related cases and rival gang violence we saw developing. We are going to continue devoting more officers to this. This strategy is outlined in our Gang Strategy, page 23 and 24.

There are some compelling reasons we don't have a larger gang unit:

1. Lincoln taxpayers fund the smallest police force per capita in the State. If we create and staff large specialized units, it comes at the expense of uniformed police officers in patrol cars on the street. Right now, we have 70% of our officers in uniform and on the street handling the constant drumbeat of traffic crashes, disturbances, thefts, assaults, and so forth. Many departments struggle to hit 50%. I don't think you'll find any LPD officers who think we have too many patrol units.

2. Anytime you create a specialized unit (especially a large one) you risk diminishing everyone else's involvement in the issue. Some people will think "that's the traffic unit's responsibility," or "that's the job of the warrants unit." You've got to guard against this.

Anonymous said...


Lincoln has a great track record with problem-oriented policing, and you've been vocal about the successes of these tactics on past issues. What strategies is the department using to address the gang-issue? It seems like there has been a spike in activity (which may be due to more coverage in the media as opposed to more actual activity).

I think the public would like to hear the measures that are being taken in addressing the gang issue, preventing it from growing, and keeping the gangs from other cities from taking root in Lincoln.

Tom Casady said...


There is a succinct yet detailed recitation of what we have done and what we are doing in our Gang Strategy, linked in my comment above.

Let me summarize the main points, though:

Cultivate, develop and analyze good information and intelligence.

Support a variety of prevention strategies in the community.

Keep intense pressure on gang members who commit crime--whether or not the crime they commit is gang-related, and regardless of its seriousness: make Lincoln a comparatively unpleasant place to be a gangster.

If you look at the arrest records of the people involved in these recent events, I think you'll find that they have been getting a lot of police attention.

Steve said...

I think your last sentence is one of the keys to the problem. People with arrest records like many of these hoodlums have should be in jail, not free to commit more crimes. I don't know if it's a failure of our laws, or our courts, but something is out of whack. Three or four offenses such as assaults, burglaries, robberies, or even vandalism ought to be enough to convince anyone that these punks have no respect for the law, or other people, and never will.

On another note, does anyone else have a problem commenting here from an iPad? It seems the only way I can make comments is to view the page as it would be seen using a PC (an option at the bottom of the page when I'm using my iPad). Otherwise, I can type 'til the cows come home, and it never gets published. Anyone have any ideas?