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March 2009 – Tips & Topics

Volume 6, No.11
March 2009

In this issue
– Until Next Time

Welcome and thanks for joining us this month.


Sometimes it’s a nice experience to be a participant at a workshop instead of working the whole day leading a workshop. It’s especially enjoyable to sit back, relax and learn about a topic I know too little about. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on “Understanding Youth Street Gangs – Their Signs, Symptoms and Motivations”.

Cliff Akiyama, MA, MPH, CGS (Certified Gang Specialist), CGP (Certified Gang Professional) is a full-time lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing where he teaches Victimology, Forensic Science and Forensic Mental Health. He has over 14 years of first-hand experience working with youth gangs as a researcher, academician, and law enforcement officer. His main area of research is investigating Asian youth gang violence and hate crimes from a multidisciplinary approach.

Now that you are impressed with his experience and credentials, I want to share some of the SAVVY and SKILLS tips I received from the day-long seminar. We hear more about gangs, but many of us do not have a body of knowledge about this tough clinical and societal dilemma.

1. Statistics and Criteria for Identifying a Gang

–> There are about 24,500 active street gangs in the USA involving close to a million gang members.

–> 94% are male and 6% are female

–> Ethnic composition nationwide include: 47% Latino, 31% African American, 13% Caucasian, 7% Asian and 2% “Mixed”

–> 46% of gang members are involved in drug sales

–> 68-79% of chronic violent offenders were in gangs

–> Risk factors of gang membership are virtually the same as those for violence “in general”

What defines a gang?

–> To constitute a gang, it must be ongoing on a continuous or regular basis

–> The gang could be formal or informal

–> Must have at least three members

–> One of its primary objectives is criminal activity

–> The gang has a name, sign, or symbol which is identifiable

The Boy Scouts is ongoing on a continuous basis; is formal and has at least three members and has a name, sign and symbol. BUT none of its primary objectives is criminal activity. So it is not a gang.

2. Youth Gang Typologies

“A typology is an effort to categorize observations into logical groupings to reach a better understanding of the society around us.”

–> Turf gangs – claiming a street or local area of the neighborhood

–> Crime for profit gangs – making money through criminal behavior

–> Philosophical gangs – White Supremacists joined together by hate crimes

–> Semi-traditional gangs – joined together by race or culture or a sense of belonging

3. Most Common Motivational Factors of Youth Gangs

–> Immediate need for gratification – no work ethic; if I want it now then simply take it from a person or location. If resistance is encountered, resort quickly to violence

–> Distorted view of reality – not in a psychotic sense, but for example, see nothing wrong with stabbing someone to death

–> General sense of fatalism – many gang members don’t believe they will live beyond for example 24 years of age

–> Tremendous survival instinct – despite the fatalism, gang members are street smart and know how to fight back for their survival and territory

4. Reasons to Join Criminal Street Gangs

–> Protection

–> Money and drugs

–> Control of the environment

–> Racial similarities

–> Cultural similarities

–> Acceptance by peers

–> Loyalty and reward

–> Recruitment

–> Intimidation

–> Control of turf

–> Common enemies

But most importantly: For a sense of belonging

References and Resources:

Cliff Akiyama, MA, MPH, CGS, CGP
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing
418 Curie Blvd., Room 408
Philadelphia, PA 19104-4217

Akiyama, C., Comparini, SO., Nepomuceno, J (1997): Youth Gang Violence: A New High Risk Biopsychosocial Emergency. Mind and Human Interaction, 8:3. 186-194

Akiyama, C (2008). Bridging the Gap between Two Cultures: An Analysis on Identity Attitudes abd Attachment of Asian Americans. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 8:3, 251-263.

Akiyama, C and Kawasaki, R: (1999). Southeast Asian Youth Gangs: A Rising Epidemic. Mind and Human Interaction, 10:4, 247-255.

Franzese, RJ., Covey, HC, Menard, S. (2006): Youth Gangs, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publishing.

Huff, RC: (2001). Gangs in America III. California: SAGE Publications.

Valdez, A (2007): Gangs Across America: History and Sociology, California: Law Tech Publishing Company.


There can be a variety of causes for the following clinical features including Substance Use Disorders, but gang involvement should be included in the differential diagnosis of possible problems.

1. Signs and Symptoms of Possible Gang Involvement

–> Admits that they are involved in any manner with a gang

–> Is obsessed with a particular clothing color

–> Prefers sagging pants or gang clothes

–> Wears jewelry with distinguishing designs or wears it only on one side of the body

–> Requests a particular logo over others such as British Knights (BK) – known as “Blood Killer” in some areas

–> Adopts an unusual desire for privacy and secrecy

–> Exhibits a change in behavior and conduct and withdraws for the family

–> Is frequently deceitful about their activities

–> Declining grades at school

–> Truancy and/or being late for school

–> Begins keeping late hours

–> Breaks parental rules repeatedly

–> Is obsessed with gangster music or videos

–> Associates with the “wrong crowd” (changes friends)

–> Begins using hand signals with friends

–> Has paint or permanent marker stains on his/her hands or clothes. Or, is in possession of graffiti paraphernalia such as markers, etching tools, spray paint, bug spray and starch cans

–> Shows evidence of physical injuries and lies about how they were received

–> Displays unusual drawings or text on school books or displays graffiti in their bedroom and on items such as books and posters

–> Produces unexplained cash, clothing, jewelry, music CDs etc.

–> Exhibits use of alcohol and other drugs

2. Gang Assessment Tool

1.  Is there graffiti on or near your neighborhood or community? (5)

2.  Is the graffiti crossed out? (10)

3.  Do the young people in your community wear colors, jewelry, clothing, flash hand signs, or display other       behaviors that may be gang related? (10)

4.  Are drugs available in or near your community? (10)

5.  Was there a significant increase in the number of physical confrontations within the past 12 months in           or near your community? (5)

6.  Is there an increasing presence of weapons in your community? (5)

7.  Are beepers, pagers, or cellular telephones used by the young people in your community? (10)

8.  Has there been a “drive-by” shooting in or around your community? (15)

9.  Have you had a “show-by” display of weapons in or around your community? (10)

10.  Is the truancy rate and/or daytime burglaries in your community increasing? (5)

11.  Have racial incidents increased in your community? (5)

12.  Is there a history of gangs in your community? (10)

13.  Is there an increasing presence of “informal social groups” with the unusual names that have words like: kings, disciples, queens, posse, crew? (15)

Add up your score:
0 – 20 points = No problem
25 – 45 points = Emerging Problems
50 – 65 points = You Have Problems
70+ points = There are Serious Problems

At 50+ points a need exists to develop a gang prevention and intervention program.


Earlier this month, I arrived bright and early at the Berkeley Yacht Club (BYC), California for a Strategic Planning session with the teams of Berkeley Mental Health (BMH). So did a number of other people. Who did not arrive was the Yacht Club manager to open up the building and let us in. Nor was the room set up in preparation for our meeting- even though the club was happy to accept the reservation and the prepayment.

Tables and chairs were in disarray; rolled up rugs were strewn around. There was only one functioning unisex toilet; the others were under renovation. Not a good start to an important meeting which was to focus on how to better integrate services for people with co-occurring mental and substance use disorders! Perhaps there was some hidden symbolic meaning there- about how our mental health and addiction treatment systems are in disarray when it comes to working together with co-occurring disorders.

If there was a curious message in the unprepared room, what happened next provided hope and optimism for the meeting. Everyone grabbed chairs and arranged them in well-spaced groupings. The floor was cleared of unwanted rolls of carpet. Tables were cleaned; lights and audiovisual equipment positioned. In ten minutes the team work transformed chaos into cooperation, and disorganization into an environment conducive to creativity and innovation.

What worked was not just the teamwork of “many hands make light work”, but the singleness of purpose – the clear, unambivalent goal to create a pleasant space. When the disapproval of the BYC management’s failures were quickly released, everyone was clear and unified around the task at hand, and accomplished much more than finger-pointing and indignation.

If we were smart enough to have planned a group exercise to set the tone for the strategic planning session, we couldn’t have devised a better scenario than what we confronted with the room in disarray. What hope and optimism there might be if we could only approach the fragmentation in our healthcare system with the same attitudes and methods that worked that morning in Berkeley, Califomia.


My website is now providing some useful tools for readers.

“I read in one of your TIPS and TOPICS some information about treatment planning a while back. How do I find that issue?”


You can now search five+ years of Archived issues of TIPS and TOPICS – almost as good a Google. Try it out- I hope it works for you.

Solutions and Resources
There will be more coming soon – some free, some for sale. I have now added links for other websites I recommend- under Current News. To access recommended links, Click Here.

Until Next Time

See you in late April.


Copyright 2009 | DML Training & Consulting |

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