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Journal Issue: Children, Youth, and Gun Violence Volume 12 Number 2 Summer/Fall 2002

Policing Guns and Youth Violence
Jeffrey Fagan

Summary

To combat the epidemic of youth gun violence in the 1980s and 1990s, law enforcement agencies across the United States adopted a variety of innovative strategies. This article presents case studies of eight cities' efforts to police gun crime. Some cities emphasized police–citizen partnerships to address youth violence, whereas others focused on aggressive enforcement against youth suspected of even minor criminal activity. Still others attempted to change youth behavior through "soft" strategies built on alternatives to arrest. Finally, some cities used a combination of approaches. Key findings discussed in this article include:

  • Law enforcement agencies that emphasized police–citizen cooperation benefited from a more positive image and sense of legitimacy in the community, which may have enhanced their efforts to fight crime.

  • Aggressive law enforcement strategies may have contributed to a decline in youth gun violence, but they also may have cost police legitimacy in minority communities where residents felt that the tactics were unfair or racially motivated.

  • Approaches that emphasize nonarrest alternatives and problem-solving strategies offer an intriguing but unproven vision for addressing youth gun violence.

None of the initiatives presented in the case studies has been shown conclusively to reduce youth gun crime over the long term. The author suggests that policing alone cannot contain youth gun violence, but by carefully balancing enforcement with community collaboration, police departments can help shift social norms that contribute to youth gun violence.