One of the biggest difficulties in combatting gang violence is figuring out just how all the different gangs interact. Where does one gang’s territory end and the next one’s begin? Where is a shooting most likely to take place?
Well, social scientists in California may now have come to the rescue – they’ve borrowed a trick from ecologists to help them understand what goes on in the ghettoes.
The trick in question is a mathematical model that was first developed in the 1930s to help study the competition within animal groups such as bee colonies and prides of lions. When the scientists applied this model to gangs, they found that the most dangerous place to be in a gangland is at the boundary between two rival gangs, not deep within the territory of one gang as you might expect.
Indeed, when the researchers mapped out 563 gang crimes that took place in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles between 1999 and 2002, they discovered that 97.7% of the crimes occurred within one mile of the borders between gangs, and 58.2 % occurred within just two blocks.
The success of this model in simulating real-life gang behavior is a promising step forward. "Maps of gang territories provide police with a better understanding of how to allocate resources," says co-author Dr George Tita from the University of California, Irvine. "Figuring out the most accurate approach is really important for effectively deploying law enforcement."