Combating Gangs:

Better Coordination and Performance Measurement Would Help Clarify Roles of Federal Agencies and Strengthen Assessment of Efforts

GAO-09-708: Published: Jul 24, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2009.

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates that the United States has about a million gang members. While state and local agencies have primary responsibility for combating gang crime, the federal government has key roles to enforce laws and help fund programs to provide alternatives to gang membership for at-risk youth. GAO was asked to examine federal efforts to combat gang crime. This report addresses (1) the roles of DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in combating gang crime and the extent to which DOJ and DHS agencies coordinate their efforts with each other and state and local agencies; (2) the extent to which DOJ and DHS measure their gang enforcement efforts; and (3) how federal grant funding is used to administer or support activities to reduce gang-related crime. GAO reviewed federal agencies' plans, resources, and measures and interviewed federal, state, and local officials in 15 localities with federally led anti-gang task forces representing varying population sizes and locations.

Various DOJ and DHS components have taken distinct roles in combating gang crime, and at the headquarters level, DOJ has established several entities to share information on gang-related investigations across agencies. However, some of these entities have not differentiated roles and responsibilities. For example, two entities have overlapping responsibilities for coordinating the federal response to the same gang threat. Prior GAO work found that overlap among programs can waste funds and limit effectiveness, and that agencies should work together to define and agree on their respective roles and facilitate information sharing. At the field division level, federal agencies have established strategies to help coordinate anti-gang efforts including federally led task forces. Officials GAO interviewed were generally satisfied with the task force structure for leveraging resources and taking advantage of contributions from all participating agencies. Federal agencies have taken actions to measure the results of their gang enforcement efforts, but these efforts have been hindered by three factors. Among other measures, one agency tracks the number of investigations that disrupted or shut down criminal gangs, while another agency tracks its gang-related convictions. However, agencies' efforts to measure results of federal actions to combat gang crime have been hampered by lack of a shared definition of "gang" among agencies, underreporting of information by United States Attorneys Offices (USAOs), and the lack of departmentwide DOJ performance measures for anti-gang efforts. Definitions of "gang" vary in terms of number of members, time or type of offenses, and other characteristics. According to DOJ officials, lack of a shared definition of "gang" complicates data collection and evaluation efforts across federal agencies, but does not adversely affect law enforcement activity. DOJ officials stated that USAOs have underreported gang-related cases and work, in part because attorneys historically have not viewed data collection as a priority. In the absence of periodic monitoring of USAO's gang-related case information, DOJ cannot be certain that USAOs have accurately recorded gang-related data. Further, DOJ lacks performance measures that would help agencies to assess progress made over time on anti-gang efforts and provide decision makers with key data to facilitate resource allocation. DOJ administers several grant programs to assist communities to address gang problems; however, initiatives funded through some of these programs have had mixed results. A series of grant programs funded from the 1980s to 2009 to test a comprehensive communitywide model are nearing completion. Evaluations found little evidence that these programs reduced youth gang crime. DOJ does not plan to fund future grants testing this model; rather, DOJ plans to provide technical assistance to communities implementing anti-gang programs without federal funding. DOJ also awarded grants to 12 communities during fiscal years 2006 to 2008 under another anti-gang initiative. The first evaluations of this initiative are due in late 2009, and no additional grants will be funded pending the evaluation results.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2011, the Department of Justice reported that a common law enforcement definition of gang was formally adopted by DOJ, DHS, and component agencies per the GangTECC/National Gang Intelligence Center Charter which was signed on July 23, 2010 by the Deputy Attorney General and participating agencies. In December 2012, the Department of Justice provided an August 7, 2009 memorandum that evidenced FBI's instructions to field offices regarding use of a common definition. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should jointly jointly develop a common or shared definition of "gang" for use by DOJ, DHS, and component agencies for reporting purposes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, the Department of Justice reported that the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee (AGCC) held quarterly meetings to share information among all of the relevant headquarters-level entities and to identify overlaps and gaps in related efforts. The agency noted that various members of the AGCC worked together to address some coordination/communications issues between GangTECC, the National Gang Intelligence Center, and the MS-13 National Gang Task Force. The Department of Justice also indicated that it merged GangTECC within an existing organizational unit, which allowed GangTECC to better coordinate and deconflict gang cases and to share operational information with partner agencies. As a result of these actions, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To strengthen federal agencies' coordination of anti-gang efforts; help reduce gaps or unnecessary overlaps in federal entities' roles and responsibilities; and assist the department, Congress, and other stakeholders in assessing federal gang enforcement efforts, the Attorney General should direct DOJ law enforcement agencies that lead or participate in the headquarters-level anti-gang coordination entities--including National Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center (GangTECC), National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee, and the MS-13 National Gang Task Force--to, in consultation with DHS, reexamine and reach consensus on the entities' roles and responsibilities, including identifying and addressing gaps and unnecessary overlaps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2009, we reviewed federal efforts to combat gang crime. We reported, among other things, that agencies' efforts to measure results of federal actions to combat gang crime have been hampered by lack of departmentwide DOJ performance measures for anti-gang efforts. On September 29, 2011, the Department of Justice provided information regarding ongoing efforts to develop performance measures for violent crime task forces. The Department of Justice reported that it expects to develop the performance measures by June 2012. In November 2012, the Department of Justice indicated that it was working to obtain the necessary materials from subject matter experts in multiple components. In April 2014, the Department of Justice sent GAO correspondence stating that the department undertook an assessment effort to develop a departmentwide performance measure, however, dissimilarities in the missions and functions of the components made it challenging to develop a departmentwide performance measure. The department noted that it would not be adopting a departmentwide performance measure, so the recommendation is closed as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To strengthen federal agencies' coordination of anti-gang efforts; help reduce gaps or unnecessary overlaps in federal entities' roles and responsibilities; and assist the department, Congress, and other stakeholders in assessing federal gang enforcement efforts, the Attorney General should develop a departmentwide, strategic-level performance measure for the department's anti-gang efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, the Department of Justice provided a November 2009 memorandum that evidenced a requirement for U.S. Attorneys to timely and accurately enter gang-related case information in case and time management systems. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To strengthen federal agencies' coordination of anti-gang efforts; help reduce gaps or unnecessary overlaps in federal entities' roles and responsibilities; and assist the department, Congress, and other stakeholders in assessing federal gang enforcement efforts, the Attorney General should direct Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) to periodically review gang-related case information entered by U.S. Attorney's Office (USAOs) into the case and time management systems to ensure more accurate and complete reporting of USAOs' gang-related cases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2009, the Department of Justice reported that on July 17, 2009, the agency invited U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be a member of the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee's Task Force Review Subcommittee. In September 2011, the Department of Justice provided a memorandum that evidenced U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's participation in the approval of six newly established task forces. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should jointly ensure that ICE is part of the process for reviewing and approving the creation of new anti-gang task forces.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2009, the Department of Justice reported that on July 17, 2009, the agency invited U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be a member of the Anti-Gang Coordination Committee's Task Force Review Subcommittee. In September 2011, the Department of Justice provided a memorandum that evidenced U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's participation in the approval of six newly established task forces. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should jointly ensure that ICE is part of the process for reviewing and approving the creation of new anti-gang task forces.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2011, the Department of Justice reported that a common law enforcement definition of gang was formally adopted by DOJ, DHS, and component agencies per the GangTECC/National Gang Intelligence Center Charter which was signed on July 23, 2010 by the Deputy Attorney General and participating agencies. In December 2012, the Department of Justice provided an August 7, 2009 memorandum that evidenced FBI's instructions to field offices regarding use of a common definition. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should jointly jointly develop a common or shared definition of "gang" for use by DOJ, DHS, and component agencies for reporting purposes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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