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The End of Gangs: Why LA gang membership continues to wane

Tattoos are seen on the head of a twenty-year old
Tattoos are seen on the head of a twenty-year old "Street Villains" gang member who was arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers from the 77th Street division on April 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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For many newcomers to areas like Highland Park, Azusa or the Hawaiian Gardens, their community’s history of organized crime often seems like just that--history. Home values are up, the streets are quiet, and graffiti is scarce. It may be hard for newer residents to imagine, but these cities used to be home to some of the most dangerous street gangs in the country. The problem was so pervasive, in fact, that area police and press nicknamed 1988 “The Year of the Gang.” Nearly three decades later, gang membership now has reached a record low, and the reasons may surprise you.

In an article recently penned for Pacific Standard, gang expert and journalist Sam Quinones explores the policies, procedures and economic factors that have contributed to the drastic reduction of gang activity over the past three decades. With recent tensions heightening between police and communities of color, Quinones hypothesizes that one of the most important factors in gang reduction is community outreach and trust; law enforcement must behave as advocates for the people they also protect. Increased trust from the community has resulted in more crime tips leading to more arrests.

In addition, Quinones also credits gentrification, increased hiring in the LAPD, and the introduction of CompStat real-time statistical crime monitoring, which allowed the LAPD to better target high crime areas. Finally, better cooperation between the FBI, CIA and LAPD has led to a significant decline in gangs loyal to Mexican cartels.

Do you live in an area where gang populations used to be high? What have you observed over the past few decades? Do LA streets feel safer?


Sam Quinones, writer and contributor to Pacific Standard where he penned  “The End of Gangs” for Jan/Feb issue. He is the author of “Mexico: True Tales From Another Mexico” (University of New Mexico Press, 2001) and “Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration” (University of New Mexico Press, 2008)