In their 1999 classic, Crime is Not the Problem, Zimring and Hawkins changed the way criminologists thought about crime and violence simply by forcing us to distinguish between them. In so doing, they advanced an agenda for a more effective response to the real “crime” problem in America – violence. In this short commentary, the authors apply this logic to gang research and responses. The authors argue police fall short in responding to “gangs” because researchers and policymakers have defined them in terms of criminal behaviour writ large, not the problem that really needs policing – the precise social and spatial dynamics of gang violence. The purpose of this paper is to stand on the shoulders of others who have stated violence trumps gangs when it comes to policy and practice and provide a conceptual review of the literature that captures mainstream and critical perspectives on gangs and offers both sides some common ground to start from as they contemplate “policing” gangs with or without police.Design/methodology/approachA review of the extant literature.FindingsThe authors stand on the shoulders of others who have stated violence trumps gangs when it comes to policy and practice, to provide a conceptual review of the literature that captures mainstream and critical perspectives on gangs, in North American and European contexts, and offers both sides some common ground to start from as they contemplate “policing” gangs with or without police.Originality/valueThe paper is a conceptual piece looking at policing gang violence versus gang crime. The paper aims to restart the debate around the role of crime in gangs and gangs in crime. This debate centres around whether gangs should be understood as primarily criminal groups, whether “the gang” is to blame for the crime and violence of its members and what feature of collective crime and violence designate “gangness”. We use that debate to reflect past and current police practices towards gangs.
Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research – Emerald Publishing
Published: Aug 24, 2021
Keywords: Violence; Policing; Gangs; Critical criminology; Databases; Eurogang; Eurogang definition
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