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'Policing Gangs in America' wins book award for ASU professor

June 04, 2008
An exhaustive study of the police response to gangs in four U.S. cities, co-authored by an ASU professor, has received international acclaim. The Academy of Criminal Justice Studies (ACJS) chose Policing Gangs in America (Cambridge University Press), co-authored by Charles Katz of ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, for its 2008 Outstanding Book Award.

Katz and Vincent Webb from Sam Houston State University received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to study gang units within the police departments of Phoenix, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Inglewood, Calif. “We looked at topics including why police gang units were created, how and why they respond in the ways they do to gang activity, and how effective they are,” Katz says.

Information-gathering techniques Katz and Webb employed in each of the four cities included observing officers in the field for periods of up to three months, interviewing officers and community leaders, and examining local news coverage of gangs.

The authors’ findings showed both positive and negative aspects of police gang units. “These units can become isolated from the public and other officers; they can turn into mini-departments within a police department,” Katz says. “This situation is problematic and runs in contrast to the trend in recent years for police operations to emphasize a freer communication flow within departments and with the public.”

On the plus side, Katz and Webb found that gang units engage in proper procedures in handling intelligence they gather related to gang activity. Katz notes that past studies, focusing on gang policing before the establishment of gang units, found that gang intelligence systems were lacking, with officers tending to engage in ad hoc decision-making.

The ACJS Outstanding Book Award for 2008 recognizes Policing Gangs in America for its “outstanding contribution to the study of crime and criminal justice.” ACJS is an international association that promotes criminal justice education, research and policy analysis for educators and practitioners.

“This recognition is indicative of the outstanding work produced by School of Criminology and Criminal Justice faculty,” says Scott Decker, the school’s director, who nominated Katz for the ACJS award. “Our faculty members work collaboratively with academic and law enforcement colleagues around the world to make positive changes in policing, corrections, juvenile justice, terrorism, drug use, and other critical criminal justice issues.”

Katz is an associate professor who also is director of ASU’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety. He is lending his expertise to a team of U.S. educators and law enforcement practitioners who are working to reduce gang-related violent crime on Caribbean islands including Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago. Katz earned his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1997.

Located on ASU’s West campus, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. More information is available at