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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.
Gangs

The National Gang Threat Assessment's Sanitized Statistics

Law enforcement agencies should carefully vet the federal gang assessment before modifying its gang-fighting strategies.

January 11, 2012  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) generates several law enforcement reports about the activity and numbers of criminal gangs in the United States. The intended purpose of these reports is to "reduce the threat, incidence, and prevalence of violent crime."

The most recent report, the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA), has spawned several media reports about perceived gang trends. Several jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies place heavy reliance on these federally researched statistics to modify their local response to the gang problem.

The NGIC released its last NGTA in 2009 documenting the increases in gang proliferation as reported to the NGIC by its partners in law enforcement across the nation. The gang data reported over the last two years expands on the previous intelligence. The newer report claims, "Better reporting and collection has contributed greatly to the increased documentation and reporting of gang members and gang trends."     

According to the NGTA, information in the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment—Emerging Trends was derived from law enforcement intelligence, open source information, and data collected from the NDIC, including the 2010 NDIC National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS).

Here's the methodology. A stratified random sample of nearly 3,500 state and local law enforcement agencies was surveyed to generate national, regional, and state estimates of various aspects of drug trafficking activities including the threat posed by various drugs, the availability and production of illicit drugs, as well as the role of street gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs in drug trafficking activity. Weighted national, regional, and state level statistical estimates derived from NDTS 2010 data was based on responses received from 2,963 law enforcement agencies out of a sample of 3,465 agencies.

What's wrong with this approach? Statisticians and analysts know that this is probably the best scientific method to gather data to make an educated guess about the overall situation. Gang officers, police brass and city and county administrators should remember that it's only a general estimate subject to the flaws inherent in the system. These are self generated and reported statistics. The criteria gathered for these reports vary from region to region and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Estimates about prison gang members were derived from the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state correctional institutions across the country. These numbers depend on the ability of prison staff to validate the gang membership of an incarcerated prisoner. Unlike street gang membership, prison gangs usually prohibit any admission of membership. Gang members often fight the prison validation process. And these numbers only account for imprisoned members, and are even less accurate for gang members on the street.

The first thing any thinking gang cop should do is to read a copy of the NGTA and go to the section with the statistics published on his or her jurisdiction and see if the figures are anywhere in the ballpark. I'll bet that the local gang cops who actually work the listed gangs had little to do with the data submitted by his or her jurisdiction. That job was probably left to administrators and crime analysts.

The report utilizes 2,963 agencies out of 3,465 queried to form its assessments and opinions on emerging trends. This 85% response is a very good percentage. In the past, the numbers were more like 40%. But my keen gang detective mind asks, "what happened to the 502 agencies that did not respond, and why?"

Truthfully, many cities and counties purposely don't report statistics on gang activity, especially in areas where tourism is a major industry. Also, the statistics in other jurisdictions can be influenced by political correctness, such as not reporting violent gang activity by illegal aliens or gang crime committed by immigrants from Islamic nations.

Politicians routinely cause gang crimes to be under-reported as a basis for claims that their current administration is effectively reducing criminal activity, when nothing could be further from the truth. One trick they use is to reduce the number of gang cops and analysts who imput data in the gang computer database. Less numbers in the system create the perception of less crime.

I've read most of the prior NGTA reports and find that the NGTA always seems to be running five to 10 years behind the times, at least in large urban areas such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The influence of prison gangs, transnational gangs, drug cartels, gangs in the military, African and Muslim gangs were evident to most of us years before the trends were mentioned in the NGTA.  

I've heard from reliable sources within the system of contributors in the composing the NGTA reports that a raw data report is compiled first. No one will ever see this version; copies of this report are destined for the shredder. It's carefully reviewed and then sanitized and vetted in Washington D.C. even before the first "Law Enforcement Sensitive—For Official Use Only" (LES-FOUO) version is ever created. It's then highly sanitized a second time, removing even more material that Washington D.C. might consider controversial, before any public disclosure.

Even after this extensive cleansing and under-reporting, the numbers of gang members identified nationally jumped by 250,000 between 2005 and 2007, and by another 250,000 between 2007 and 2009. Between 2009 and the 2011 report, the reported numbers jumped about 400,000 to more than 1.4 million gang members.

Don't get me wrong, I like the work of the National Gang Intelligence Center and the National Gang Threat Assessment, but the NGTA is not The Gospel when it comes to understanding the measure, numbers and impact of gang issues. It's more like a wet finger in the wind. Unless you corroborate its findings with your own investigation, in your own jurisdiction, don't build your gang-fighting unit or tactics on the NGTA's statistics.

When you discover that the NGTA report doesn't match your experience and records, call them on it. With your input, the next NGTA could be more accurate. Give them the opportunity to correct any mistakes and maybe publish the important gang trend you might have discovered.

You can reach them by writing, e-mailing or calling:

National Gang Intelligence Center

635 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

NGIC - VA #405

Washington D.C. 20535

E-mail: rgic@leo.gov

Phone: (800) 366-9501

Tags: Gang Intelligence, FBI, Crime Trends, Crime Statistics


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