The city of Tacoma commissioned a comprehensive study of its street gang problem last year, and the results are finally in. The verdict: "Youth involvement in gangs and youth violence is on the rise."
The study was authored by Melissa Cordeiro, Tacoma's gang project coordinator, with help from the National Gang Center. It has been the subject of controversy since the city agreed in 2010 to pay $50,000 for the research. Although some of the findings are glaringly obvious (i.e. "Involvement in gangs facilitates access to weapons and drugs..."), there are some nuggets of valuable data to be had.
The assessment is intended to provide an "accurate, up-to-date snapshot" of gang activity in the city, and it does that in painstaking detail. Five of the Tacoma's eight main neighborhoods are said to be disproportionately affected by gang crime and violence, and, not coincidentally, those neighborhoods are home to the city's poorest residents and worst schools. Nearly half of gang-involved kids surveyed said they joined a gang before they turned 15.
A few other highlights:
-Law enforcement officials report an increase of 30 percent in known gang members between 2007 and 2009.By way of comparison, the National Gang Intelligence Center reported in 2008 that Pierce County is home to between 2,500 and 3,500 suspected gang members. The data compiled in the recent study shows how absurdly overblown those figures are, and suggests that an independent accounting of the problem was probably a good idea.
-The conflicts between [Hispanic] gangs and local African American and Hispanic gangs have resulted in increased violence and expansion of criminal activity.
-There are four major gang types - Bloods, Crips, Nortenos and Surenos - in Tacoma with approximately 434 known members and 217 known associates.
On the other hand, if Tacoma doesn't drastically change the way it deals with gangs by overhauling its school system and police strategies, the assessment won't be worth the paper on which it is printed, let alone $50,000.