Tag Archives: new jersey

New Jersey Gang data is now available!

I am very, very happy to announce that Princeton University is planning on posting up, for anyone to use, the underlying data behind the New Jersey State Police gang survey reports from 2001, 2004 and 2007.

Now this is pretty big news if you’re interested in this sort of thing because, as far as I know, the underlying data behind most (if not all) of these gang surveys has not been released to the general public before.  Now, for the first time, people can look at the individual responses of the data and compare the responses over the years or subject the data to whatever sort of statistical analysis they want.

I should also mention that the 2001 survey never resulted in a public report and the findings of that survey was only discussed in relation to the 2004 findings.

Currently, only the 2001 data is posted but the rest should be up at some point in the (hopefully not too distant) future.  It may be found here even though it is incorrectly labeled “National Youth Gang Survey” it is, in fact, the 2001 New Jersey State Police Street Gang Survey data.  Hopefully the label will be changed in the near future as well.

The site it is hosted on is quite interesting as well, allowing “resources and assistance in finding, using, and analyzing social science data”.  It’s been awhile (too long) since I took statistics in school but you can do some nice things with the data using their statistical software.

A bit of information about the data:  The 2001 survey looked at approximately 100 cities within New Jersey.  2004 expanded to over 400 municipalities and the 2007 survey got responses regarding all but one (with Elizabeth winning the ‘Team Player No Prize’)

So, I’m hoping this data will prompt researchers, students and the general public to use this data, analyze it or mash it up with other data sets and come up with different ways of looking at it.  If you happen to be one of those intrepid individuals (or know someone who is), please let me know what you find!

Guest Post – Sweet Talkin’ The Gangstas Off their Perch

This is a momentous occasion here at Travels with Shiloh corporate headquarters.  For the first time in our two year history, we welcome a guest blogger, signaling that I’m that much closer to hitting the big time.  Can a lucrative sponsorship deal, product tie ins, an increasingly erratic and dangerous lifestyle filled with booze, drugs and hookers, followed by the inevitable crash and eventual redemption be far behind?  Move over Arianna…Suck it Tina Brown.

‘Robespierre’ is an expert in the subject of criminal activity in the Land of Milk and Honey and hopefully we’ll continue to get his unique perspective on the unusual goings on there. Take it away, Robespierre…

At last! The most effective crime deterrent in the United States isn’t boots-on-the-ground or cops-on-the-beat.  It’s Mrs. Butterworth.

This report  in the January 13 edition of a local newspaper described the lengths to which harried urban residents will go in order to rid their property of unwanted visitors:

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“Residents [in the Lafayette area of Jersey City] complained to police of people hanging out on corners and intimidating residents, prompting one local to pour pancake syrup on her stoop to keep loiterers away.
‘I know it’s stupid, but it works,’ said Raquel Sharper, vice president of the Communipaw Avenue Block Association. ‘There’s sometimes 30 people out there,’ she said.”

Although Jersey City’s police chief has promised swift response to citizen complaints, the standard law enforcement tactics of fugitive roundups, stop-and-frisk operations, and street corner drug busts may fall short of the mark.  Drastic times call for drastic measures, and there’s no better time than NOW to deploy society’s secret weapon:  a police auxiliary citizens brigade that performs community policing the old-fashioned way.  Federal economic stimulus funds can provide these civic-minded volunteers with a modest stipend, and federal Byrne grant funds can pay for their uniforms and equipment.

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However, Mrs. Butterworth alone may not be able to rid our cities of the gang scourge.  That’s why I recommend immediate activation of the ultimate anti-gang “surge force” — the iconic power-woman of the breakfast kitchen, someone whose culinary specialty is inextricably associated with syrup in American culture, someone whose mighty rolling pin enforces discipline throughout the household and throughout the neighborhood, someone so potent her name dare not be uttered aloud.  You know who I mean. . . . and so does PepsiCo.

[ed note: As long as it has the word ‘surge’ in it, federal funds can be expected to gravitate to it like matter around a black hole.]

NJ Veterans Oral History Project

Back in September I was in Sea Girt during my National Guard drill weekend for the Governor’s review. While I was there I had a bit of time to kill and so went to check out the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey. As I’ve said before in previous posts, I’m not a huge fan of military museums but I seem to prefer ones that have a distinctly local feel to them. They may not be particularly flashy or slick but they seem to have a much more authentic connection to the soldiers who served than the big, overly packaged ones.

Anyway, while there I got to talking to one of the volunteers who worked there who told me about an oral history project they’re working on. It’s goal is to “collect and preserve the memories of veterans through recorded oral history interviews.”

I’m a big fan of the work done by the Legacy Project (if you haven’t read any of the books by the projects director, do yourself a favor and get one today…very moving stuff) and have finally come to appreciate how much history we’re losing every day. As veterans pass away, their experiences often go with them and, at best, we’re left with second or third hand stories that lose some of their accuracy and uniqueness with each telling. So the opportunity to pass along my experiences to the ‘greater good’ was very appealing. I filled out my application and about six weeks later (the staff, as near as I can tell, consists of a part time oral historian and some volunteers and so they’ve got a lot to do with few resources) I got a call to schedule my ‘debriefing’.

The experience was really top notch. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was really blown away by the professionalism of everyone involved as well as the seriousness in which they approached the whole project. The prime interviewer, Carol Fowler, did her homework before I arrived and had found the posting I had done for my friend who had passed away while we were in Afghanistan. She asked me if I would read it to which I replied ‘No problem.’ I didn’t think about until well into the interview when she said it would be a good time to read it.

And then it happened…

I got about two lines into the reading when I, unexpectedly, felt myself choking up. Before I knew it I was crying. I was totally blown away how strongly and quickly the emotions came rushing back. It was really quite incredible.

The interview went on for about two hours (hopefully I said something of interest to someone during all that time) and when we were done she asked me if I had spoken to anyone at such length about my experiences. I realized then that I hadn’t. I talk a lot about my military experience but it’s usually in small bite sized chunks. The whole experience was very therapeutic.

Over the past two days I’ve been having countless “D’oh” moments where I’ve realized things I should have mentioned but at least I gave them a bunch of pictures and a copy of all of my blog postings from my time mobilizing at Ft. Dix and in Afghanistan (racking up an amazing 198 pages! Who knew you could write so much about so little?!).

Update (13 Dec 07)Here’s a photo of the  interview.  Taken at the NJ Militia Museum.  Photo courtesy of Joe Bilby.
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The 2007 NJ Gang Survey – Part Deux

The media’s take on the 2007 NJSP Gang Survey is starting to be revealed today. I think the decision not to include total gang population estimates was a good one since it looks like it’s forcing people to read the report rather than latching onto a number like a Titanic survivor clinging to a life preserver and ignoring everything else. As a result, the stories seem more informative and well rounded than I remember in the wake of the 2004 Survey.

Here’s a roundup of some of the stories out there:

Asbury Park Press – Pretty good focus on Monmouth and Ocean counties.

Gloucester County Times – Focuses (as you might expect) on Gloucester County. Good discussion about gang migration and gangs in suburbs.

The Star Ledger – Good general overview with discussion about links to the Governor’s newly released crime plan.

The Times of Trenton – This is a pretty good article with the exception of the description of MS-13 as ‘movers and shakers’. MS-13 hysteria has more to do with a few grisly acts that get a lot of media play as well as linking to the anti-immigrant feeling sweeping the country than the true nature of the threat.

Some of the interesting themes in most of the stories:

G.R.E.A.T. got mentioned a couple of times as a tactic to help keep kids out of gangs. Unfortunately, like D.A.R.E., the program doesn’t actually seem to do much other than make people feel like they’re doing something. The two programs cost a great deal of money and there’s very little evidence that they’re effective.

A few of the article pick up on the fact that the report is actual a survey of law enforcement’s perception of the gang environment in their jurisdiction rather than an attempt at any sort of objective description of gangs. Those two could be very different depending on a host of factors like agency experience in identifying gangs, public/political pressure, agency priorities, etc.

Many people have been beating the drums about the fact that gangs can’t be considered solely an inner city issue. The problem is that most people have deeply ingrained images of both gang members and a gang neighborhood and it’s hard to get your head around the fact that someone could be in a gang and not fit that stereotype. There’s been some good academic literature comparing crime (specifically juvenile crime) in depressed, inner cities and in the suburbs. The criminal justice system is much more likely to identify urban, minority criminal suspects as gang members while white, suburban individuals charged with the same (or similar) crimes are often regarded as delinquents or even ‘boys raisin’ hell’. As a result, every time some report comes out talking about gangs in the suburbs there’s both alarm (Oh, my god! Get my gun!) and disbelief (I haven’t seen any people dressed in red hanging out on the street corner selling dope, that report must be a lie!). We should expect gang members in a middle class suburb to act in the exact same ways that gang members in a inner city housing project would.

The 2007 New Jersey Gang Survey

The New Jersey State Police released their 2007 Street Gang Survey today. This is the third survey (others were in 2001 and 2004 although the first survey did not result in a published report) in what looks to be a regular three year cycle. Highlights from the findings include:

  • Gang presence in New Jersey is widespread, but generally ‘thin on the ground’ -Types of gang theft crimes reported tend to be ‘crimes of opportunity’ or ‘impulse crimes’ rather than crimes requiring planning, resources or organization. meaning that although many (43%) municipalities report the presence of gangs, the size of gangs in these towns is usually (84%) relatively small (fewer than 50 members, and often more like a dozen).
  • Types of gang theft crimes reported tend to be ‘crimes of opportunity’ or ‘impulse
    crimes’ rather than crimes requiring planning, resources or organization.
  • Violent crime in schools (aggravated assault, attempted homicide, homicide) is very rare.
  • The Bloods street gang was named by a large majority (87%) of municipal respondents reporting the presence of gangs. No other gang was named by more than half of the municipalities with a gang presence.

A very interesting and positive aspect of the survey is that it refrains from making estimates of the total numbers of gang members in the state. There’s often big demands to make such estimates in order to justify political points of view but such numbers generally have little real practical value. Thus, the report states:

The 2007 New Jersey State Police Street Gang Survey makes no attempt to estimate the total number of street gang members in New Jersey. The quality and precision of available data does not support such efforts, and past attempts to generate statewide gang membership estimates have been incorrectly characterized and misrepresented in public discourse.

The 2004 Gang Survey (which is worth checking out as well to compare with the new report) estimated almost 17,000 gang members throughout the state but my question was (and remains), so what? Would there be a policy difference if the estimate was 15,000 or 20,000? How about 10,000 or 30,000? Basically, once you get to these sorts of numbers I think you cross a line where variations of the estimate don’t effect how you react to them. Best to just say: “There’s a whole heck of a lot of gang members out there.” and move on.

Of course there’s also the problem that there are no universally held definition for gangs or gang members. New Jersey has 567 municipalities, 21 counties and several state law enforcement agencies, each of which can independently decide what constitutes a gang, gang member and gang crime, assuming they want to define them in the first place.

More later as I digest the report and commentary…