Gang homicides often occur in public and involve firearms, but are less likely to involve drugs or other crimes than generally believed by the public, according to a report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gang homicides frequently involve youth as victims and are often retaliatory reactions to gang conflict.
This report is the first to compare gang homicides with other types of homicides using city-level data from CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). This report analyzed 2003-2008 data from large cities in 17 states, and found five cities had the highest levels of gang homicides ― Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Long Beach, Calif., Oakland, Calif., and Newark, N.J.
“Violence – including gang homicides – is a significant public health problem,” said Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Investing in early prevention pays off in the long run. It helps youth learn how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence and keeps them connected to their families, schools, and communities and from joining gangs in the first place.”
Key findings include:
- In Los Angeles and Long Beach, less than 5 percent of all homicides were associated with known drug trade or use. In Oakland, 12.5 percent of gang homicides compared to 16.5 percent of nongang homicides involved drug trade / use; in Oklahoma City, 25.4 percent of gang homicides compared to 22.8 percent of nongang homicides involved drug trade / use. Newark was the only city with a significantly higher proportion of gang homicides (20 percent) vs. nongang homicides (6 percent) that involved drug trade / use.
- There was a significantly higher proportion of gang homicide victims who were 15-19 years old in all cities; in general, gang homicide victims were younger than nongang homicide victims.
- Approximately 80 percent of all homicide victims were male in each city; however, Los Angeles, Newark, and Oklahoma City still reported significantly higher proportions of male victims in gang homicide incidents compared with nongang homicide incidents.
- In all cities, 92–96 percent of gang homicide incidents involved firearms, compared with firearm involvement in 57–86 percent of nongang related homicides.
- Drive-by shootings were more likely to contribute to gang homicides than other types of homicide in Los Angeles and Oklahoma City (24 percent of gang homicides in each city were from drive-by shootings).
- In Los Angeles and Oakland, a significantly higher proportion of gang victims were Hispanic. In Oklahoma City, a significantly higher proportion of gang victims were non-Hispanic black compared with nongang victims.
- Less than 6 percent victims of gang and nongang homicides were bystanders.
- In Los Angeles and Long Beach, gang homicides accounted for the majority of homicides among 15-24-year-olds (61 and 69 percent, respectively).
- A significantly smaller proportion of gang than nongang homicides were associated with other crimes in progress in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland (ranging from 0-3 percent for gang homicides versus 9-15 percent for nongang).
Very few surveillance systems collect data with the level of detail necessary to direct gang homicide prevention strategies. NVDRS is a state-based surveillance system that collects violent death data from multiple sources, such as death certificates, coroner and medical examiner records, and various law enforcement reports.
“This report highlights the importance of a system like NVDRS,” said Howard Spivak, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention. “The system’s unique ability to provide a comprehensive picture of the circumstances surrounding violent death can help identify prevention opportunities and approaches for populations and communities most at risk.”
Homicide is the second leading cause of death among persons aged 15–24 years in the United States. CDC supports a number of initiatives designed to prevent youth from joining gangs and from becoming involved in violence. Several examples include:
- CDC and National Institute of Justice are working together and with experts on gang membership and delinquency prevention to summarize what families, schools, and communities can do to reduce the risk for youth gang membership. http://nij.ncjrs.gov/multimedia/video-nijconf2011-simon.htm
- Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere, or STRYVE, helps promote the use of evidence-based youth violence prevention approaches www.safeyouth.org
- Urban Networks Increasing Thriving Youth, or UNITY, works with large urban centers to enhance their readiness for violence prevention, help organize their planning, and increase their capacity to address youth violence using a public health approach. www.preventioninstitute.org/unity.
- Academic Centers of Excellence: Sites work with communities to reduce youth violence. www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/ace/index.html.
CDC works to prevent injuries and violence and their adverse health consequences. For more information on youth violence prevention activities and research, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/youthviolence.
“CDC works 24/7 saving lives, protecting people from health threats, and saving money through prevention. Whether these threats are global or domestic, chronic or acute, curable or preventable, natural disaster or deliberate attack, CDC is the nation’s health protection agency.”