A new book edited by Suffolk University Professors Erika Gebo and Brenda J. Bond explores a six-year Massachusetts effort to reduce gang and youth violence through the use of a national “best practices” paradigm, the Comprehensive Gang Model.

Looking Beyond Suppression: Community Strategies to Reduce Gang Violence chronicles the successes and challenges of implementing this gang policy – which employs a broad community strategy – in cities across Massachusetts.

“It’s messy because each community has to adapt the best practices to its unique environment,” said co-editor Gebo. “This book has people in the front lines of the effort joining with researchers to tell what happened in specific communities.”

The book tells of realities, such as:

•The realization that gang members and those most at risk for gang membership are often the least served by community agencies
•The problems that arose in a street outreach program when a key community partner had a change in leadership
•The impact of the recession, which in poor neighborhoods translated into a full-fledged economic depression and led to reduced funding of key programs for youth
•The difficulty of setting a definition of “gang” that is recognized within a community – or statewide – and how that affects data collection and analysis
Lowell illustrates the definitional problems that have on-the-ground implications for how police and community agencies do their gang reduction work. Researchers there found that “officers on the street and analysts within the police station can have very different understandings of what is and is not a gang-related incident … [and thus] on how police resources are directed,” according to a book chapter co-written by Bond.

The community-academic partnership in Lowell responded to this challenge by taking police data, analyzing it and interviewing people from agencies working with youth so that they could develop standard definitions and systematic data-collection and analysis to be used in addressing retaliatory gang violence.

Intertwining narratives

In bringing together recent narratives from law enforcement, grass-roots agencies, community leaders and collaborating researchers, the book tells the real story about what happened when Massachusetts implemented the Comprehensive Gang Model through the Shannon Community Safety Initiative grant program administered by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Involving cities across Massachusetts

The Massachusetts effort partners researchers with community practitioners to examine gang problems and the effectiveness of Comprehensive Gang Model strategies in a first-in-the-nation statewide approach to the problem. The book highlights the initiative in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, New Bedford, Lowell and the Tri-City area of Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner. Gebo and Bond collaborated with researchers across the state to highlight the important and challenging work in the Commonwealth’s urban cities.

“Massachusetts has been a pioneer in funding this work for the past six years,” said co-editor Bond. “This work shows how practitioners have shaped strategies to fit specific community environments as they work to reduce gangs and the violence associated with them.”

About the editors:

Erika Gebo is an associate professor of Sociology at Suffolk University. She is co-author of a chapter in the book that describes an assessment tool for identifying Springfield youth on the continuum from those at risk for joining gangs to those who are hard-core members.

Brenda J. Bond is an assistant professor in Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School, Institute for Public Service. She works with police leaders across the nation on a variety of policy initiatives. Bond is the co-author of a chapter in the book that describes the problems of tackling retaliatory violence in Lowell.