Minni’s Morning Coffee: Define “Gang”


Aside from community policing and preventative programs, law enforcement officials have offered up a tougher solution to get better a grip on crime in the city.

At a Forum at Wayne State University last week, former Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton and Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee suggested Michigan adopt sentence enhancements for gang members who commit crimes. The idea is that it will discourage gang-related violence, which is responsible for the high homicide rates in Detroit according to Godbee.

But before we go running to lawmakers to push for these “enhanced” punishments for organized crime, we should look at how Detroit’s criminal landscape differs from California in the late 90’s when Bratton was police chief.

Bratton talked about L.A.’s crime scene in a 2007 NPS interview

“It’s the birthplace of the black gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. It is the historical birthplace of the Latino gangs [and the] Mexican mafia …”

In the late 90’s when Bratton took on the Californian Crips and the Bloods, it was easier to ID gang members. For starters, they wore distinctive colors. The gangs were larger, some spanning an entire city with key signs and symbols that were easier to spot and define.

But Detroit gangs are different. The problem isn’t Crips or Bloods but rather small, wild groups of friends and neighbors who dub themselves according to whatever street they live on. Names like “Fenkell Boys” or “Lafayette Goons” are just neighborhood cliques getting into beef with the gangs or cliques just one street over.  These micro gangs are harder to identify.

Detroit City Council Member James Tate, who formerly served as deputy police chief in Detroit, said it is hard to ID gangs in this city:

“Our gangs are really just people who get together and get themselves a name. We have to redefine what we call a gang. They’re not all the same colors or anything like that.”

While crime fighting is tricky, we have to be careful not to be so reactionary and take a closer look at preventative measures. It would take intensive community policing to keep up on all of the city’s little crime cliques since they are often remote, smaller than big organized crime circles, and change constantly.


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