Vol. 78, No. 1On the leading edge

Hooded male making gang sign.

Latest research in law enforcement

The PAYG project in Toronto's Jane-Finch neighbourhood aimed to prevent high-risk minority youth from joining street gangs.


The following are excerpts from recent research related to justice and law enforcement and reflect the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of the organizations for which they work.

Prior offending among family violence perpetrators: A Tasmanian sample

By Hayley Boxall, Dr. Jason Payne and Dr. Lisa Rosevear

This study provides a snapshot of the six-year offending histories of a cohort of Tasmanian family violence perpetrators. What emerges is a clear association between the frequency of family violence incidents and a history of other offending. A group of the perpetrators of family violence were identified as committing a range of other types of violence, traffic offences and the breach of violence orders. The findings from this study have implications for policy and practice, including the treatment and identification of family violence perpetrators (FVPs).

The current study involved the analysis of data extracted from the Family Violence Management System (FVMS) and official police apprehension records maintained by Tasmania Police. The current study focused on an exclusively Tasmanian FVP sample.

Overall, it was found a larger proportion of FVPs had been reported to or apprehended by the police for offences other than family violence offences. It was also found that the most common offences for which prior offenders were apprehended included traffic, violence and disorder offences. On average, FVPs with a history of non-family violence had been apprehended by police on 12 separate occasions.

The underlying causal mechanisms and risk factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will be violent towards an intimate partner may be the same as those that increase their risk of engaging in other forms of offending.

It is well established that a range of life events and circumstances can place stress on intimate relationships and lead to conflict. This conflict may, in turn, increase the risk of family violence. Finally, there is also evidence that drug and alcohol abuse may be associated.

The findings from this study support previous findings that FVPs are not a homogenous group. There appears to be some evidence of a 'generally antisocial/violent' FVP group who are engaging in violent behaviours both inside and outside the home on a frequent basis.

There may be value in having police who come into contact with individuals accused of these offences make additional enquiries to identify if they are violent within the home as well.

Considering these additional checks have obvious resource implications for law enforcement, it may be more feasible to suggest that the patterns of offending described in this study may be used to identify FVPs at high risk of reoffending and to target risk-management strategies and interventions including treatment at this group.

Read the full report: http://aic.gov.au/publications

The Achievers: Positive Alternatives to Youth Gangs

Toronto's Jane-Finch community suffers from one of the highest violent crime rates in the province of Ontario and is widely acknowledged as one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged communities in Canada. It is believed that the Jane-Finch community has the highest concentration of youth gangs in Canada.

In 1999, managers of Jane-Finch's San Romanoway high-rise buildings began consultations with key stakeholders to discuss gangs, violent crime and vandalism in the Jane-Finch area. The Positive Alternatives to Youth Gangs (PAYG) project was proposed as a possible solution to these problems.

From July 2008 to March 2011, the PAYG project aimed to prevent high-risk minority youth from joining street gangs or coming into conflict with the law. It also aimed to help youth exit gangs safely.

The program comprised five components: a school-based group program, an after-school program, a summer program, a family-support program and a community program. Groups in school explored a range of psycho-social issues that affected academic performance, life choices, the propensity toward gang involvement and other forms of anti-social behaviour.

The after-school program aimed to build trust with students, to help them academically, to build self-esteem through culturally-based activities, to help them develop a wide range of pro-social skills and to encourage them to become involved in pro-social activities. The summer component provided educational, social-recreational, athletic and artistic activities for project youth.

Parents and caregivers of the participants in the in-school group, after-school and summer programs were eligible for family support. By engaging parents, PAYG aimed to strengthen their capacity to keep their children gang-free. In the community program, residents directly impacted by gang activities were invited to community forums. The objectives of this service included creating awareness in the community and among families of the dangers of becoming involved in gangs, and of the factors that place minority youth at risk.

There is evidence some gang-related risk factors were reduced after program participation. The project demonstrated an impact on pro-social attitudes, though it did not impact on attitudes toward violence. There were also mixed findings regarding PAYG's impact on risk and protective factors, academic performance, teacher bonding and attitudes toward cheating — although it may have had an impact on participants' employment potential.

Read the full report: http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca

Childhood Trauma and Its Effects: Implications for Police

By Dr. Richard G. Dudley, Jr.

This paper summarizes the current understanding of the effects of ongoing trauma on young children, how these effects impair adolescent and young adult functioning, and the possible implications of this for policing.

For children, repeated exposure to violent trauma — particularly in the absence of parental support that might mitigate the impact — can have devastating effects on their psychiatric and neuropsychiatric development. These include the development of neurological difficulties, trauma-specific psychological difficulties, developmental difficulties and other associated functional difficulties.

Because of their tendency to violent and erratic behavior, those who experience trauma-related difficulties are at an increased risk of coming into contact with police officers. Without training focused on issues related to childhood trauma, it is unlikely that police officers will recognize that individuals may be acting out due to difficulties stemming from past traumatic experiences.

Although anxiety, fear and impaired regulation of the brain's stress response drive the behavior of traumatized individuals, visible symptoms are more obvious. Attention to these visible symptoms at the expense of their underlying causes results in police misperceiving these children.

An increased awareness of the high prevalence of severe childhood trauma and an appreciation of its effects on both the developing child and the later adult's mind might impact the thinking and behavior of police officers in several ways.

A greater appreciation for the impact of domestic violence on developing children might lead police to develop better mechanisms for reporting it to their local child protective services and to better advocate for the development of mental health services to address these children's needs.

Although children from any neighborhood can be exposed to this type of trauma, children from poor communities of colour are particularly at risk. It is important that police be aware of the high prevalence of severe childhood trauma in such communities, appreciate its effects on the developing child and understand its impact on adolescent and adult functioning.

Read the full report: https://www.ncjrs.gov

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