An Analysis of the Relationship between Gang Membership, Social Networks, and Crime
Access StatusFull text of the requested work is not available in DASH at this time ("restricted access"). For more information on restricted deposits, see our FAQ.
Ciomek, Alexandra Marie
MetadataShow full item record
CitationCiomek, Alexandra Marie. 2021. An Analysis of the Relationship between Gang Membership, Social Networks, and Crime. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractCriminal activity not only affects the criminal justice system and those in contact with the system, but also is a public health concern for those at risk of victimization, especially gang members. My dissertation research examines the structure of the network of street gang members in Boston and how to use it to improve understanding of the meaning and implications of gang membership. Boston is an archetypical field site because the characteristics of its gangs are more similar to typical gangs in the US: they are generally geographically concentrated and smaller in size. To study the network of gang members, I use administrative data on arrests and contacts with law enforcement over the eight-year period from 2007-2014. Individuals involved in the same event have a co-offending tie connecting them, which creates a network of individuals connected through shared police contact events. I then identify gang members using the Boston Police Department’s gang database. Co-offending, especially violent, is a particularly relevant interaction in the gang context, given that a defining quality of a street gang is that criminal involvement is part of the group’s identity.
In the first chapter of my dissertation, I use the co-offending network of gang members to study how members of different gangs participate in different types of joint activity, including property, drug, and violent crime. Understanding co-offending between gang members at the individual level has implications for crime prevention and the life course outcomes of members, including employment opportunities and mortality. Much of the work on gang networks focuses on the gang as the unit of analysis, relating them to one another based on organizational level rivalries and alliances. Furthermore, work at the individual level often examines the risk of victimization based on network exposure. Because of the gap in the literature concerning the individual-level relationships between members of different gangs, I examine whether contacts between gangs are primarily violence-based and through what other forms of behavior they manifest. I find evidence for strong similarity, though at different magnitudes, between co-offending within and between gangs, suggesting a lack of cohesion for Boston gangs.
The second chapter answers the question: are gangs, as defined by law enforcement, substantially different from other groups that commit crime together and in what ways? Given the impact of criminal justice system involvement on the life course, as well as the added interest from law enforcement that comes with being a gang member, we must understand how current policing practices capture the nature of offending at the individual level. I utilize community detection, a social network analysis technique, to determine densely connected groups based on the co-offending network of all individuals with police contact. I find that gang members commit more crime overall, including solo crime, compared to individuals in other co-offending groups, though the differences in co-offenses are minimal. These findings suggest that current gang classifications may not capture all criminal groups, at least in the context of co-offending, suggesting that other key individuals are at risk of engaging in crime and becoming victims.
The third chapter of my dissertation is based on a research project in collaboration with Anthony Braga and Andrew Papachristos, extending the literature on network firearms exposure to include an analysis of the characteristics of firearms, especially markers of illegal trafficking. We model the risk of gunshot victimization on the social distance to someone with firearm access, controlling for the distance to a gang member, among other factors. We find that individuals socially closer to firearms (and those closer to gang members) are more likely to be victims and that being close to a firearm with characteristics of illegal trafficking is particularly dangerous. The danger of network exposure to firearms supports the need for interventions aimed at curtailing illegal transfers of firearms, reducing their availability for gun violence.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37370223
- FAS Theses and Dissertations