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ASU criminologist authors anti-gang guidebook

August 08, 2008
Law enforcement agencies across the country have a new resource at their disposal as they work to combat gang-related crime in their jurisdictions. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has published Strategies to Address Gang Crime: A Guidebook for Local Law Enforcement, authored by Arizona State University criminologist Scott Decker.

The guidebook is being distributed to police departments around the United States.

“A central premise of this guidebook is that gang problems are local, and solutions must be based on improving understanding of the nature of those problems and the immediate underlying conditions that give rise to them,” says Carl Peed, director of the COPS office. “Widely regarded in the field for his research on gang activity, Dr. Decker offers sensible information for local agencies to use in developing responses to their specific gang problem.”

Decker, professor and director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU’s West campus, says flexibility is critical for police agencies in devising anti-gang strategies. “The reality is that most responses to problems such as gang crime do not succeed, at least in their first design,” he says. “It is therefore important to document the process of designing and implementing a response so that the responding jurisdiction – and others – can be more successful in the future.”

Decker’s guidebook describes the SARA model (scanning, analysis, response and assessment), a strategic problem-solving process that originated in the private sector. “All four components of SARA are critical; the model requires careful analysis before creating interventions,” says Decker, who visited some three dozen cities as he conducted research to write Strategies to Address Gang Crime.

“The gang problem is highly dynamic. It’s important to avoid developing a fixed image of a problem that does not change as the problem changes,” Decker says. “Growing evidence shows that sustained application of the SARA model greatly improves the law enforcement response to gangs and leads to safer communities.”

The latest available statistics show gangs to be a significant concern across the country. A 2006 survey estimated that some 26,500 gangs and 785,000 gang members were active in the United States. The issue is not limited to large cities. While more than 85 percent of large-city law enforcement agencies reported gang problems, more than half of suburban counties and approximately a third of smaller cities also reported problems with gangs.

“The good news is that many police departments are improving their effectiveness at developing and implementing problem-solving strategies,” says Decker, who has authored a dozen books relating to drugs, gangs, and crime. “We are seeing more organizations using data-based strategic responses to issues like gang crime, rather than simply ‘putting the same fire out’ over and over.”

Decker says his work on Strategies to Address Gang Crime is in keeping with the commitment of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice to address important policy issues and assist law enforcement agencies in implementing workable crime-reduction strategies.

The guidebook may be viewed online at

Housed in the College of Human Services on ASU’s West campus, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Details are available at