How Epidemiology can help Understand Gang Behavior

Epidemiology is the branch of medicine dealing with the incidence and prevalence of disease in large populations and with detection of the source and cause of epidemics of infectious disease. Epidemiology within the context of the article will be described as the incidence and prevalence of gun crimes committed by gangs and their affiliates [as it relates to drug motivation]. Subsequent definitions may comprise how these violent acts affects a large population.

H.R. 1279 introduced by Rep Randy Forbes in 2005- primary purpose was to amend title 18, United States Code, to reduce violent gang crime and protect law-abiding citizens and communities from violent criminals, and for other purposes (Library of Congress). According to the summary passed by the US House in 2005, provides for “mandatory minimum sentences for committing, or conspiring, threatening, or attempting to commit, a gang crime for the purpose of furthering the activities of a criminal street gang or gaining entrance to or maintaining or increasing position in such a gang, including: (1) life imprisonment or death if the gang crime results in the death of any person; (2) 30 years’ imprisonment if the gang crime is kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, or maiming; (3) 20 years’ imprisonment if the gang crime is assault resulting in serious bodily injury; and (4) ten years’ imprisonment in any other case. Provides for fines and forfeiture of property used to commit or facilitate commission of the offense or of property constituting or derived from any proceeds of the offense.”

“Expands the scope of provisions regarding and/or increases penalties for: (1) interstate or foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises; (2) carjacking; (3) using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire and other felony crimes of violence; (4) violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity (authorizes prosecution to be brought in the judicial district in which the crime of violence occurred or in which racketeering activity of the enterprise occurred); (5) murder and other violent crimes committed during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime; (6) using interstate commerce facilities to commit multiple murder; and (7) the use of firearms in crimes of violence and drug trafficking.”

Drug-related homicides

Year Number of homicides Percent drug related

2000 13,230 4.5
2001 14,061 4.1
2002 14,263 4.7
2003 14,465 4.7
2004 14,121 3.9
2005 14,860 4.0

Note: The percentages are based on data from the Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) while the totals are from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). Not all homicides in the UCR result in reports in the SHR.
Source: Table constructed by ONDCP Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse staff from FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Crime in the United States, annually.

Violent victimization, by the perceived drug or alcohol use of the offender and by race of victim, 1992-2001

Perceived drug or alcohol use by offender

Race of victim Total Alcohol Drugs Both Neither

Total 100 % 33 % 10 % 9 % 49 %
American Indian 100 48 9 14 29
White 100 34 9 9 49
Black 100 26 11 9 55
Asian 100 27 8 6 60

Note: Percents refer to the annual average for 1992-2001. Table excludes those respondents who were unable to report whether or not they perceived the offender to have been using drugs or alcohol.
Source: BJS, American Indians and Crime, 1992-2002, NCJ 203097, December 2004.

Drug use by State prisoners, 1997 and 2004
Percent of inmates who had ever used drugs

Type of drug 2004 1997

Any drug 83 % 83 %
Marijuana 78 77
Cocaine/crack 47 49
Heroin/opiates 23 24
Depressants 21 24
Stimulants 29 28
Hallucinogens 33 29

Source: BJS, Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004, NCJ 213530, October 2006.

There appear to be some very unique features about this particular bill. It is apparent that Bureau of Justice Statistics were instrumental in the design phase of this bill. Because hard data appears to be the primary motivation for introducing this ammendment. For example, The Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that in 2005, 4.0% of the 14,860 homicides in which circumstances were known were narcotics related. Murders that occurred specifically during a narcotics felony, such as drug trafficking or manufacturing, are considered drug related (FBI, 2005). It also important to mention that the mission of UCR is to provide law enforcement agencies with reliable crime statistics data without bias. As a result, there is no ranking of the states crime activity in this regard. This is why this bill is important. Furthermore, the bill has been seriously scrutinized by organizations like the NAACP and Urban League, due to the implications of targeting black men, which is a downside. Nonetheless, a practical process must be in place to address violent crime. In my opinion, this bill established in crime epidemiology, may serve the City of Newark an appropriate platform to address the issue of violent crime, particularly committed by gangs (regardless of age).

National estimates of drug related homicides seem to preclude, that 2005 suggests a rise in this category of violent crime at 4%. The national estimate of 4% seems to suggest a significant correlation with the demand for various narcotics. In the City of Newark, crack cocaine and marijuana appears to be what market demands. If Newark gangs have determined if demand and supply equates to an equitable relationship, it seems apparent that further defining that relationship in quantitative terms (on quarterly basis vs. annual) may provide enforcement agencies in Newark an additional incentive to exintiguish this relationship.

In light of the execution style shootings in Newark: harsh questions must be entertained on how to move forward [in the sense of proactivity] after this tragic event. It is my humble opinion, that 50% of the answers lies within the epidemiology of gang, gang acquisition and activies; and warfare in the City of Newark; and the unique relationship to gun control acquisition and existing gun control laws in Newark. In order to arrive at a viable solution, law enforcement agencies, attorney general and the Mayor of Newark must look at existing data; and determine what the correlates are, the implications, and design an action plan. Gun control data was not provided within the context of this article. However, establishing quantifiable relationships of violent crimes within the paramater of existing gun control legislation in Newark must also be established before designing action plans to address violent crimes committed by gangs.


Library of Congress. (2005). H.R. 1279. Retrieved from on August 9, 2007.

Federal Bureau of Investigations. (2005). Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Retrieved from on August 9, 2007.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. [Online]. Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) Retrieved from on August 9, 2007.