Related Coursework On Gang Violence

Advice For Becoming A Gang Investigator: Interview with Gary Killam, President of the FGIA

We had the great privilege of talking with Gary Killam, President of the Florida Gang Investigators Association and experienced gang investigator from the state of Florida. President Killam shares his advice on how to improve your chances of becoming a gang investigator and great insights into what it is like to work in gang investigation.

Can you tell us how you got started in law enforcement and how you moved into a position as a gang investigator?

I have always wanted to be a police officer for as long as I can remember. I went to the academy and became an officer in 1980 and in 1986 I applied to criminal investigations as a general detective. While I was there working some of the cases we noticed there was a lot of gang activity. At the time in Broward County there was no talk of street gangs because we really didn’t have them. So I started collecting data, tracking the gangs, documenting the gangs, and based on the activity we were seeing and some of the people I was interviewing, I realized that we were starting to have a gang problem that was growing in our city. So I approached my boss and presented the documentation and said “I think we have a problem brewing. What are your thoughts on it?”. My boss said “You’re right, it looks like we have some issues brewing and I want you look into further”. So my responsibilities went from a general detective to a gang investigator at that time. As we continued to look into the problem, we realized the problem was bigger than we ever thought. The gangs had come into our area and were there to stay and the problem had evolved. Around 1990-91 we created what we called the multi-agency gang task force to bring all the agencies together so we could cross jurisdictional boundaries and work together to solve problems and that was an effective program that we started. Then the county partnered with Miami-Dade County, and that worked pretty well for us. So that’s how I got started working in gangs.

What is a typical career path for a new police officer who wants to become a gang investigator?

My recommendation is, based on what I’ve seen in my 30 years, is that a young person would need to start out as an officer and most agencies are the same – you have to start out as a patrolman. As a patrolman, learn as much as you can about what’s going on in your division with the gangs. What gangs are there, what type of gang members you have, and what type of crimes they are involved in, because as a patrol officer, gang detectives depend on you a lot to provide street information because gang detectives tend to get busy on cases and working. So what I would always look at as a gang detective is which officer is really out there working to provide some good information to us. That is someone I’d like to start working with and molding and bringing into the gang unit as an investigator because they show a strong interest. So a young officer getting in there needs to learn as much as they can, attend some schools, work with the gang guys – talk to them, say “What can I do to help? What kind of information can I provide you as an officer that would help you with your cases and what you’re doing everyday?”. Maybe even volunteer to come out and work operations with them so the guys get to know you and know your interest. Progression usually requires you to work the road and it could be anywhere from 2-5 years depending on the agency before they are eligible to go into investigations. Get training as early as you can to show the interest. Once you have that and when there is an opening, you definitely want to apply.

What are some common requirements for becoming a gang investigator?

One of the things we look at as an administrator is what has the officer done to advance his knowledge in the field of gangs. When we hire investigators there’s a process. You have to apply, and then we do interviews. Based on those interviews we then rank the officers who are applying. So what I’m going to look at as an evaluator is what has the officer done. Have they attended any conferences or have they obtained any gang training that would make them a specialist in that area? Unfortunately, a lot of young policemen don’t go get the training. They wait and say “When I get in I’ll get trained”. Well…what I’m looking for as an administrator is who is taking the initiative to get the training in advance. And that training can really help you as a road officer. So that is an important aspect if a young officer want to get into working gangs. Get as much training and knowledge as you can. Most of the states, have gang associations like the Florida Gang Investigators Association. Become a member, most of them are very inexpensive but you can gain knowledge, information, and training through those associations. They are also great resources for contacts. So if the officers do that and attend some local training, it puts them step above others. I do strongly recommend, whether to be a police officer or a detective, that they go to college today. College is such a critical aspect to becoming a police officer. When I started, college wasn’t important at all. I started with an associate’s degree and I realized that if I wanted to work my way through the ranks I had to get a better education. I went back for a bachelor’s and then back for a master’s degree and realized that law enforcement is about being a lifelong learner and you have to continue to educate yourself if you’re going to stay up in that field.

Would you recommend a specific degree for aspiring gang investigators?

There is not necessarily a specific degree but criminal justice is a plus. There are some colleges that are offering an associate’s degree in gangs. There are some of the 4-year universities that are offering specific coursework in gangs. Nova Southeastern has a gang class in their bachelor’s of criminal justice. St. Petersburg College has a two-year degree program in gangs. Those are the ones I’m aware of. There are other colleges and universities out there that have some of those courses that are specific to gang investigation. But I will tell you this, I don’t think it is necessary to become a gang officer to have a degree in that area – you could have a degree is sociology. Any college degree can be a benefit. What I think is more important if you want to become a gang investigator is coming into law enforcement with a college degree or military background or both. Once you become a police officer, get the training that is specific to your area dealing with gangs. That’s what’s going to give you that little step ahead. The way we conduct our interviews and selection process is we have a ranking scale. If you have a two-year degree you have so many points. If you have a four-year degree or above you have so many points. If you attended training classes that was specific to gang investigation you get points. If you had worked with the gang unit you get points. So college is important for selection into criminal investigation, not specifically for gang investigation itself. The type of degree is not as important as having college experience.

How frequently are positions available for an officer to join a gang unit in your experience?

It depends because each agency is different. You may have more frequent openings in California or Austin, Texas. Unfortunately what we have seen in agencies is budget cuts that have impacted some of the gang units, and specialty units in general, not just gang units. With budget cuts, a lot of times what happens with gang units is that they tend to get moved into general investigations where those investigators now have to do both. It is a little tough as far as how many positions come open. Now in some areas, what has happened over the years is all of a sudden you have a rash of shootings that occur and your agency might say we need to bring back the gang units or we need to add some more guys to the gang unit and they will do that. Most guys that get into the gang unit tend to stay for a while – we like the gang guys to stay 2-4 years because you get to know the gang members on the streets. And to be effective you need good communication skills so you can work the streets and work those organizations. It’s really hard to say how frequently. Down in South Florida, you may get 3 or 4 a year. Some guys may get in and say you know I really don’t like this because it’s not a Monday through Friday 9 to 5 job. Gang members sleep during the day in most cases, so you’re going to work afternoons, nights, and weekends. Some guys don’t like that.

What are some of the greatest misconceptions about gang investigation that are created by television or movies?

From my experience, the misconception is you solve crimes in an hour and you solve these gang related shootings very quickly. There was an interesting one on the Closer where a guy walks up to a wall, reads it, and right away knows who committed the murder. No, that’s not realistic. Also, that it’s non stop action. Not necessarily true, because you have to work and you have to conduct investigations. A homicide might take you several months and you may never solve it. It is a lot of leg work, a lot of interviews, and it’s not just running with your lights and sirens on chasing guys. There is some of that, but it is a big misconception that young officers have coming in that there is non-stop action chasing these gang members. Well that is not the reality of it. I spend a lot of time working with these guys, going to the corner where they’re hanging out, or going to their neighborhoods, talking with them, meeting with them, finding out what’s going on with them, and what’s going on with gang rivalries. That’s all part of working in a gang unit – developing rapport through these individuals, and hopefully developing some intelligence to make an arrest.

What are some of the greatest challenges faced by gang investigators in your experience?

Officer safety is always this biggest. We’ve lost several officers this year that were tied to gang members killing them. That’s a big challenge for guys to not let your guard down. Some officers figure they know everybody but you’re dealing with gang members and they’re still a criminal element. You always have to be on your A game. Always ready to react and always have your eyes open so you know what’s going on. It might not be the gang you’re dealing with, you might become a victim of a drive by shooting of a rival gang. So it’s being aware all the time about your surroundings as a gang officer. A danger is falling victim to trusting these guys too much, and believing some of the lies they tell you. Another danger is being around that lifestyle and working an investigation so long that gang investigators might start acting like gang members and that is a very dangerous mistake because if you cross the line you’re going to go to jail.

What aspects of working in gang investigation to you enjoy the most?

One of the great things about working gangs that I enjoy is that you work everything from criminal mischief to homicide. It depends on your agency, but for my agency the gang investigator got to do it all, so I one day I might be working criminal mischief and homicide the next day. The other part I really enjoy is that you spend a lot of time on the streets. While some of the general investigators and detectives might spend more time at the desk, doing followups and phone calls, gang officers do spend a fair amount of time on the streets talking to kids. I really enjoy getting on the streets and working with these guys and help them get out because it is not about just putting them in jail. You can’t arrest your way out of a gang problem but if you can help a kid make a difference and turnaround it’s a great thing. I had a guy come up to me and ask me if I remember him and unfortunately no I didn’t because I deal with so many people. He introduced me to his wife and his little boy and said “Hey, I want to thank you because of you, I got a job at Florida Power and Light, this is my family, I’m doing the right thing”. That’s what it’s about too. Putting the bad guys in jail and helping those who are not bad guys make a change in their life to be a good member of society and that’s really an exciting thing.

Is there any additional advice you would you give to an individual who is planning to become a police officer and would some day like to become a gang investigator?

One of the biggest skills I see lacking in young people wanting to get into law enforcement is their communication skills. If you’re going to get into the field of law enforcement, you need to talk to anybody, anytime, at any place. I see young officers coming in who are very uncomfortable talking to people and this is a people business. You have to have great communication skills. On the college side, there are some great programs under communications, to become good at it. If you’re a good communicator, no matter what job you do in law enforcement, you’re going to be very successful.

-> Learn more about a Gang Investigator Career

The Community Solution to Gang Violence: A Collaborative Community Process and Evaluation Framework


In 2003, the Greater Edmonton area experienced an increase in gang activity, gang related crime and gang related violence. The community demanded that something be done about the problem, and particularly that the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) address the problem. Although the EPS had organized a Gang Unit to take a more strategic response to the issue, they realized that enforcement alone would not have a significant long-term impact on reducing gang activity. At the same time, Native Counselling Services of Alberta felt that a community response to the issue was needed to prevent youth involvement in gangs, and approached the EPS with the suggestion that they work together to create a 'community-based approach to gang activity and violence.' Representatives from these two organizations held a series of conversations and meetings in which they shared their perspectives and concerns, and discussed the benefits and possibilities for engaging others in developing a community approach to gangs. As a result of this meaningful dialogue, the Community Solution to Gang Violence (CSGV) was created. Four years later, CSGV has grown to include more than 40 organizations working together on a strategic, community-wide approach to address the issue of gangs and gang violence. CSGV strives to:

  • Enhance a sense of community responsibility and commitment to address gang violence;
  • Promote positive youth development and develop conditions to prevent young people from becoming involved in gangs, and;
  • Create a community-wide plan and network of support to find solutions to gang violence.

This paper provides a model for viewing the work of comprehensive community initiatives, details the process and practice involved in mobilizing and engaging the community to address the issue of gangs, and outlines the evaluation framework used to measure the effectiveness and impact of a community-based and driven approach to prevent youth involvement in gangs.

Gangs: A Complex Community Issue

While the phenomenon of gangs is not new to Canada, the increasing concern about gangs and how to respond to gangs, particularly when youth are involved, is relatively new. In-depth, Canadian research on the topic of gangs is still in its infancy. In our review of over fifty articles on the topic of street or prison gangs, approximately 20 per cent of the studies were found to be based on Canadian data. As a consequence, community understanding of gangs is largely limited to media accounts of gang activities, and the popularitization of "gangsta" imagery in movies, television and music. These portrayals are based mainly on what's happening in large cities in the United States, and have little bearing on the situation in Canada. As a result, Canadian communities are both fascinated by and terrified of gang activities, and are at a loss as to how to respond to the behaviour.

Schools are struggling to find a way to respond to young people who may be involved with gangs or imitate gang behaviour. These are the students who are engaging in violent and intimidating behaviour, including carrying weapons to school. Families struggle to protect their children from associating with gangs and to give them the guidance and support they need to avoid gang involvement. Communities struggle to find ways to create a sense of safety in their neighbourhoods. Police struggle to find a way to deal with young people involved in criminal activities associated with gangs. Organizations serving young people and families struggle to meet the complex needs of young people and families. Governments struggle to develop policy frameworks to guide the development of strategies and services to prevent youth involvement in gangs. Young people themselves struggle to find a way to obtain the support they need from families, schools and communities to grow and develop the competencies and skills they need to avoid gang involvement.

Compounding this lack of understanding of the problem is the question of who is responsible for articulating solutions and taking action to address the problem. Who frames the issue and how is the issue framed? Is the gang phenomenon an issue of suppression with a focus on organized crime lead by the police and justice system? Is it an issue of intervention with a focus on gang-involved youth lead by corrections and government agencies? Is it an issue of prevention with a focus on at-risk young people lead by community members and community groups?

These questions underscore the complexity of the problem and the resulting solutions. The issues are socially and technically complicated and involve multiple stakeholders. Moreover, the dynamics surrounding gangs are constantly shifting. It is not an issue that lends itself to quick fixes, nor is it an issue that can be adequately addressed by a single organization. Gangs and gang activity have complex social, political, educational, justice and economic layers. Resolving issues with respect to gang activity must involve changes in attitudes, societal norms, relationships, organizational cultures, policies, civic action and laws. As such, the processes and practices involved in developing a comprehensive community approach to the issue of gangs are broad in scope and move beyond the patchwork provision of programs and services. The community approach seeks systemic change that creates linkages between systems, and redefines ways of working together to develop a collaborative, integrated approach to gangs. It is a way to create joined-up solutions to joined-up problems.

As logical as this approach may seem, our systems, organizations, and services are not designed to work together. We work within specialized systems that are informed by different paradigms and are expected to be self-contained. The space on the margins and the space between systems is often neglected or ignored. Work is typically defined in terms of specialties in which we distinguish ourselves by our differences rather than our commonalities. Plans and services are largely developed in isolation from others, and in some instances, from a place of secrecy. Scarce resources often pit agencies against one another in the competition for funds, rather than fostering possible collaboration. Personal power and responsibility for action tends to be hierarchical and focused on the transactions necessary to deliver specific services and achieve outcomes in keeping with specific mandates. Problems and solutions are seen to be self-contained.

The intent here is not to make judgments about the supremacy of one view over the other, but to highlight the dynamics surrounding comprehensive community initiatives like CSGV. There is a place for, and indeed, even a need for organizations to work as independent units where efforts can be focused on specific and clearly defined issues and problems. Not every community issue or problem requires a comprehensive, collaborative approach. However, it is warranted when the issue is extremely complex, as was stated by a leading expert in public leadership, who has written that when "the problems are interconnected, crossing jurisdictional, organizational and functional boundaries and are intertwined with other problems, a comprehensive community initiative is required".Note 1

Community Solution to Gang Violence: A Comprehensive Community Initiative

This is the contextual setting of CSGV, and marks the starting point in the journey to develop a comprehensive and collaborative approach to the issue of gangs. The approach draws from the emerging theory and practice on comprehensive community initiatives that centers on the idea that "multiple and interrelated problems…require multiple and interrelated solutions".Note 2 Comprehensive community initiatives, like Community Solution to Gang Violence are marked by the following key featuresNote 3:

  • Comprehensive and broad in scope;
  • Holistic, breaking down silos and linking systems;
  • Multi-sectoral and inclusive, recognizing value of diverse backgrounds, networks and areas of expertise;
  • Developmental and long-term, moving with the pace set by the community;
  • Focus on the assets and resources embedded in communities; and
  • Concerned with both process and outcome, building the capacity of the community to make significant improvements around an issue and in the way issues are addressed.

In addition to these key features, the Tamarack Institute for Community EngagementNote 4 has identified a number of phases that initiatives such as CSGV typically move through when engaging the community in addressing a complex issue. These phases are reflected in the following schematic diagram that has been adapted to reflect the experiences of CSGV in developing a community-based response to gangs. The remaining section of this paper will highlight the processes and practices of CSGV as it moved through these various phases.

Community Solution to Gang Violence Collaborative Model

Gang Issue, Leadership and Initial Vision Emerges

As was mentioned in the introduction, CSGV began in 2003 as a response to an increase in gang activity, gang related crime and gang related violence. Given that gangs and gang activity did not suddenly spring up in 2003, it is important to ask: Why then? How did the issue become a public issue that led to a community response? How did gangs become part of the community's agenda?Note 5

When reflecting back to this time, there were two critical factors that propelled the gang issue onto the community's agenda. The first was the intense and violent nature of the gang activity (Two men injured in car shooting. Edmonton Journal December 8, 2003. Man stabbed outside nightclub. Edmonton Journal, November 16, 2003. Two charged in teen's death: But still no arrests in two earlier cases where young men were shot to death. Edmonton Journal October 15, 2003), which created a sense of shock and outrage that such activities were occurring in the City of Edmonton. The second factor was the action taken by the CEO of Native Counselling Services of Alberta (NCSA) to approach the Chief of Police of the EPS, and initiate discussions about the need for the community to be engaged in addressing the issue. To start the process, the leaders brought together their Senior Management to discuss the issue and a potential partnership. Both the crisis or sense of urgency and the response from NCSA created the impetus to push the issue onto the community's agenda. While a crisis can bring an issue to the attention of the community, it requires community champions, or "catalytic leaders." Who:

  • "Focus attention on the issue to the public and policy agenda;
  • Engage people in the effort by concerning the diverse set of people, agencies and interests needed to address the issue;
  • Stimulate strategies and options for action; and
  • Sustain action and momentum by managing the interconnections through appropriate institution and rapid information sharing and feedback.Note 6"

The leaders that emerged to take on these tasks, Allen Benson, CEO of NCSA, and Mike Bradshaw, Deputy Chief of the EPS (appointed by the Chief of Police), brought together two diverse systems with different cultural histories, structures and world views. The EPS is highly structured with chains of command where orders are given, followed through and reported upon. Action and results are the focus of activity. NCSA, on the other hand, is a community-based organization providing a range of services for and by Aboriginal people in Alberta and is known for its cutting edge innovative programming. Community engagement and development are the focus of much of its activity. What united these differing perspectives was an agreement about the urgency of the issue, a personal commitment to address the issue, and a profound belief that gang violence could best be addressed by a broad-based community response. The Deputy Chief of the EPS was tired of seeing young people involved in gangs being carried away in body bags. The CEO of NCSA could not stand by and watch the destructive impact gangs had on children and families and the community as a whole. They were compelled to move beyond their individual mandates and push the issue onto the "community agenda."

One of the first steps, was to host a Leadership Forum that brought key stakeholders together (school boards, municipal, provincial and federal government leaders, police, community, family and youth serving organizations) to commit to a process of developing a broad-based community solution to gang violence. Specifically, the key stakeholders were asked to commit themselves and their staff to attend a Community Forum that would bring people together from a wide variety of sectors - government, businesses, corrections, judicial, education, voluntary and non-profit organizations - to begin the work of developing a comprehensive community approach to the issue.

The framing of the issue was critical in shaping the CSGV initiative in that it was a call to action that required collective responsibility for the problem and collaborative action for the solution. It was clear from the beginning that there was no quick fix to the issue of gang violence. The issue was bigger than any single organization and the interconnected problems of gang violence required a new way of addressing the problem and identifying solutions.

Exploring the Issue

The Community Solution to Gang Violence Forum was held in April of 2003 and drew over 350 people from a broad cross-section of the community: youth services, education, family services, mental health, housing, employment, victim support, crime prevention initiatives, community development agencies, multicultural groups, aboriginal organizations, small business, church groups, police, investigative services, justice, community corrections and correctional centers. It was clear that the issue of gang violence had a far reaching impact on the community and that the issue was interconnected.

As the primary purpose of the forum was to begin the work of developing a broad-based community solution to gang violence, it focused on two specific outcomes:

  • Increasing collective understanding of the interconnected nature of the gang "problem" in the Greater Edmonton area; and
  • Developing a vision and strategies for a community-wide approach and plan to address the issue.

Collective Vision Emerges

To achieve these outcomes an interactive process was developed that enabled participants to share their knowledge and experience of the issue, identify the underlying causes behind the issue and to identify strategies and actions for addressing these issues. From these discussions, the following Vision Statement and theme areas emerged to guide the development of "Community Solution to Gang Violence."

Vision Statement

The Greater Edmonton area is a safe and healthy community in which our youth and other citizens, agencies, institutions and government are sufficiently informed and empowered to value and take collective and individual responsibility for maintaining a community free of gang violence.

Theme Areas

  • Community Awareness
  • Values and Education
  • Early Intervention
  • Youth Programming
  • Addictions/Treatment
  • Resources/Funding
  • Government/Policy
  • Leadership

Before the forum closed, a Steering Committee composed of leaders from NCSA, the EPS, and Edmonton Community Services made a commitment to carrying the ideas from the forum forward. This included marshalling the resources necessary to develop an inclusive community plan to address issues of gang violence in the Greater Edmonton area. In addition, volunteers from each of the working tables at the forum held two follow-up meetings to create action plans in key areas identified above by participants at the forum. A sign up list of interested working group members was also created for future follow-up. As a result, a core group of committed individuals instilled hope and optimism that the issue would not die, and that the efforts of forum participants would be used to develop solutions to the issue. The data gathered from the forum was used to develop a comprehensive list of stakeholders with interest and knowledge in the issue and to develop a proposal to obtain funding for staff and resources.

While the Steering Committee committed to carrying the ideas from the forum forward, sustaining the momentum from the forum was a considerable challenge. The willingness and commitment of the community to act on the issue was evident from the forum. However, there was no staff or infrastructure to take on the between meeting tasks, research, framing and follow-up necessary for the work to progress. Instead, the Steering Committee composed of the Deputy Chief of the EPS, the CEO of NCSA, and a Branch Manager from Community Services with the City of Edmonton, needed to incorporate these tasks into their existing work and mandates. They needed to be constantly mindful of the need to create space and time to keep the issue on the community's agenda, and not let it slowly fade away with the hope that someone else or the government would emerge to take responsibility for the issue. They needed to push the boundaries of their individual organizational mandates and work collaboratively to forge a common identity and sense of purpose. They needed to obtain resources to hire staff to help build the social and administrative infrastructure to sustain the movement forward. On a practical level, it meant determining who was going to act as the host agency or trustee for the initiative.

These actions were difficult and time consuming. Trust is at the core of collaborative practice and trust is developed by consciously paying attention to the importance of relationship building. Patiently learning about each other, defining relationships, figuring out how to share power, who will act as the lead of the initiative and learning how each partner adds value to the whole, are critical indicators of success. All too often collaborative efforts fail because in the rush to act on urgent issues, relationship building is seen to be a frustrating waste of time. However, without solid relationships built on trust, making decisions about who applies for funding; how decisions are made; how power is to be shared; and how the initiative is to move forward can undermine and sabotage collaborative action.

Eighteen months after the first Community Forum, the Interim Steering Committee had worked through these issues, obtained start-up funding, and hired a Project Manager in the fall of 2004. Although the Steering Committee gave periodic updates to forum participants on the progress made, eighteen months is a considerable time lag time between the initial energy generated at the forum and some sign of concrete progress and action. The first tasks of the Steering Committee and Project Manager were to re-engage the community and particularly the participants who attended the forum, reignite a sense of urgency around the issue, and instil a sense of hope that the effort and thought put forward was still valued and essential for addressing the issue of gang violence.

Fortunately, the leaders of the initiative had the foresight to develop a list of stakeholders who attended the Leadership and Community Forums. Contact was made to let people know the initiative was alive and well. Despite the passage of time, a significant number of people were still interested in pursuing the issue and they agreed to come to another Community Forum and establish Working Groups that would carry the initiative forward. Approximately 185 people attended the second forum, and of these, 100 people (including community members who self-identified as interested in future working groups) indicated their interest in joining one of the Working Groups to develop and implement action plans. The second forum generated the following principles to focus the overall direction of the CSGV initiative:

  • Focus on preventing youth involvement in gangs by addressing root causes of youth and gang violence;
  • Build on community strengths, assets and capacity to address the complexities of young and gang violence;
  • Act as a convening group that brings people and sectors together to think through the complex issues of gangs, deal strategically with youth involvement in gangs and develop an integrated, comprehensive approach that is community driven and directed; and
  • Foster sustained commitment, coordination and collaboration based on a shared vision and mutual respect.

Engaging Community and Building Community Will

Engaging the community and developing community will are essential to the growth of any comprehensive community initiative. A community initiative by its very definition is driven, defined and shaped by the community. Without purposeful and sustained attention to the engagement of the community and the development of community will, an initiative is not likely to move forward and is not likely to reach the desired outcomes. Put simply, without community engagement and community will there is no comprehensive community initiative. As Connor emphasizes: "Community engagement is an ongoing process of moving out to larger and larger circles of people. A community problem-solving effort may begin with a few individuals or a few organizations, but it needs to continually seek out additional participants and involve multiple sectors to be seen and valued as a community-wide effort.Note 7" From the onset, Community Solution to Gang Violence was driven by this same reasoning. It is the reason community engagement and development of community will are the centre point of the initiative and the primary marker of success. Each phase of the development of a comprehensive community initiative must in some way further engage the community and continually build community will. It is an on-going part of the process.

Create Conditions for Success

Further to community engagement, CSGV has identified a number of conditions for the development and implementation of comprehensive community initiatives. The conditions have been identified through reflective practice, review of the literature on other comprehensive approaches to gangs, and the emerging theory on collaborative practice. Comprehensive community initiatives that tackle complex issues like gang violence venture into new territory and new forms of organization and practice that essentially are discovered along the journey. Comprehensive community initiatives are based on a model of change that is more organic and evolving than linear and mechanical. It is highly contextual and relies heavily on purposeful dialogue, strategic thinking, and reflective practice.Note 8 Its goal is to enable people to think through complex issues and discover new ways of working together. It involves the creation of new knowledge that arises out of the interaction and shared experiences of those working to develop a common language, shared understanding and mutual agreement on the actions needed to create change.

Creation of a Shared Space

TorjmanNote 9 describes three "types of place" that need to be considered in advancing the "community's agenda." Physical space is the place we live. It is our homes, our neighbourhood, where our children go to school, where we work and play. It is the woods, the river and physical environment that make up our world. Understanding the conditions and dynamics surrounding people's connection, engagement and interaction of people living in the physical space of community is critical for understanding and responding to the community's agenda. Emotional space is a sense of belonging. It is the place that families and neighbours call home. Within community work it is the place where people make a personal and emotional commitment to work toward the common good. Intellectual space is the common language, shared understanding and concepts that enable people to work together more effectively. It includes both what people do and how they organize themselves to face complex challenges.

CSGV created a shared public space to address the complex issue of gangs that did not previously exist. Specifically we created a physical space where people could "meet and join-up" with others who were concerned about and wanted to take action to address the issue of gangs. We created an emotional space where fears about gangs and their impact on individuals, families and the community could be expressed and where hope for change could be strengthened and nurtured. We created an intellectual space where we could learn with and from each other to better understand the conditions that give rise to gangs and find solutions to prevent youth involvement in gangs. In summary, we created a shared space where the private troubles of individuals and families, and of individual service providers and organizations, could be turned into public issues that engaged the whole community. This is the way in which changes were made to create "Community Solutions to Gang Violence."

Social Infrastructure to Support the Work

In his studies on how communities can address complex problems, Connor employed the term "community support organizations" to refer to the type of infrastructure that is needed to cross multi-boundaries. He defined a community support organization as "an impartial, skilled, local intermediary dedicated to fostering the success of local collaborations and systemic reforms in order to improve the way the community solves problems."Note 10 Given that there was general community agreement that no single organization could address the complex issues of gang violence, CSGV faced the challenge of organizing itself as a community support organization.

As a result of the community awareness efforts by the leaders of CSGV and the identification of stakeholders at the Leadership and Community Forums, CSGV established a core group of committed members to initiate action and solve the complexities of organizing a community support organization to sustain the work. Through a series of meetings that analyzed the data generated from the Leadership and Community Forums, CSGV established the following framework to guide its work as a community support organization.

General Goal - To create and sustain a collaborative process to engage and support citizens, agencies, institutions and government to take collective and individual responsibility for working toward a community free of gang violence

Guiding Principles - We take responsibility, individually and collectively, to create the conditions for a community free of gang violence.

We will:

  • Consciously learn more about gangs and gang violence.
  • Share information with each other.
  • Listen to members of our own committee and working group and communicate with members of other working groups - for the purpose of sharing information.
  • Encourage existing organizations to pay attention to community needs and provide services within the scope of their mandates.
  • We will work collaboratively with others to create a community-wide approach to address the issue of gangs and gang violence.

We will:

  • Support each others' endeavours.
  • Demonstrate flexibility; be open minded to the ideas of others and to change.
  • Avoid silos and build connections.
  • Find out what is happening now (the community work with youth that is good & positive), and we will support and celebrate this.
  • Respect the different parameters of different organizations.
  • We will build connections and create structures and processes that are culturally competent and inclusive.

We will:

  • Include a regular opportunity for "reflection in action" on a quarterly basis, so that we can actively track what we are learning about process and make changes accordingly.
  • Be constantly vigilant to ensure that structure does not get stuck.
  • Establish connections and working relationships with immigrant and refugee communities.
  • Create and use an inclusion lens.
  • We will promote active citizenship to create a community free of gangs and gang violence.

We will:

  • "Give a darn" and pay attention to our own neighbourhoods and do something personally or find help.
  • Support and help people to understand what they can do for themselves.
  • Increase community awareness.
  • Work to influence / build infrastructure to support active citizenship.
  • Identify how citizens can get something back by participating in this process.
  • We will build on community strengths and assets.

We will:

  • Identify what other people are doing, and refer, use the services, broadcast their existence.
  • Acknowledge groups in the community.
  • Use an asset based approach to creating change.
  • We will foster sustained commitment, coordination and collaboration based on a shared vision and mutual respect.

We will:

  • Develop commitment within a community wide approach, over time.

Organizational Structure

Steering Committee: A Steering Committee guides and oversees the development of the collaborative process. In addition, the Steering Committee accesses resources and provides an organizational framework to support the efforts of the Working Groups. Initially, the Steering Committee was composed of three organizations who initiated the Leadership and Community Forums (EPS, NCSA, and Community Services, City of Edmonton.) However, since community engagement is a continual process of seeking an ever widening circle of stakeholders, this committee expanded to include: RCMP, Muslim Association of Canada, Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative, Edmonton Community Adult Learning Association, YMCA, Inner City Children's Service Project, Edmonton Public Schools, Edmonton Catholic Schools and Ministry of Solicitor General and Public Safety).

Working Groups: Working Groups were composed of a broad range of agencies including youth and family service organizations, corrections, police, crime prevention, education, housing, immigrant and settlement groups. Action plans were developed and implemented action plans to address issues of gang violence within one of the four key areas. The Community Awareness Group provides information to the community about the conditions that give rise to gang violence and the action needed to prevent it. The Early Intervention Group provides families with tools and a network of support to create a caring, supportive environment for their children. The Youth Group provides young people with the support to avoid harmful behaviours and engage in the community in positive, healthy ways. Finally, the Government and Policy Group encourages all levels of government and service providers to create policies and programs that address gang violence and positive youth development. The Working Groups are aided by a facilitator who supports the group process work and a Chair who provides leadership around the content and direction of the theme area. Working Group Chairs sit on the CSGV Steering Committee to ensure connection between the individual groups and the overall initiative.

Secretariat: The Secretariat (which includes EPS, NCSA and Community Services, City of Edmonton) acts as the voice of the initiative, takes primary responsibility for identifying and obtaining funds for the initiative, and hires and evaluates the Project Manager.

Project Manager: The Project Manager designs and facilitates the collaborative process to address gang violence and to ensure linkage and communication between the Working Groups; the Working Groups and the Steering Committee; and the initiative and the larger community.

Host Organization: (NCSA) supervises the day-to-day work of the Project Manager, provides all administration services and seeks out new and on-going financial support.

Evaluation Team: The evaluation team creates the processes and structures to measure the impact of the Community Solution to Gang Violence strategies and initiatives

Community Solution to Gang Violence Organizational Structure

A.P denotes independent agencies who have staff members participating on the Working Groups and Steering Committee. Currently there are about 30 organizations actively involved with another 30 who are more passive participants (i.e. on mailing lists, receive information and attend meetings occasionally)

Network of Trusting Relationships to Build Interdependence

While an organizational structure is necessary to focus efforts on the challenges and common aspirations around the complex issue of gang violence, the real strength of initiatives like CSGV lie in the supportive relationships and strong bonds of trust among members. To build trust, members of the collective must first believe that the vision is worthwhile, and that collaborative action is most likely to achieve the desired outcomes. That is, members must begin to build trust by trusting. Once individuals have taken this leap of faith, mutual integrity and respect must be present among members to foster deeper trust in each other's ideas and actions. Essentially, with initiatives like CSGV, a focus on the 'common good' must be maintained. This involves being open and sensitive to the needs, values and interest of members involved in the initiative, taking commitments seriously, and following through on promises and agreements.Note 11 The individuals who make up Community Solution to Gang Violence were very committed to creating pro-active relationship and trust-building from the very beginning of the initiative, even though this process, at times, can be at cross purposes with the building of a comprehensive strategy in a timely manner. As was mentioned previously, CSGV was initiated by leaders from EPS and NCSA who came from different cultural histories, structures and world views. What enabled them to deal with these differences was an agreement about the urgency of the issue, a personal commitment to address the issue and a profound belief that the problem of gang violence could best be addressed by a broad-based community response.

At the same time, however, both parties recognized that there were also differences in perceptions, interests and assumptions that needed to be sorted through. The narrative about how they met over coffee to air and work through these differences was shared with members of the collective. It was used to emphasize the importance of understanding the self-interests of individuals, and the differences in perspectives that members bring to the collective. Since members do not give up their independence within the collaborative and no single individual has the power to "make things happen", members must agree to be open to influence and to be influenced by each other. The type of change generated through collaborative work is not only directed toward the larger community and systemic change, but involves personal change in perceptions, understanding and ways of working together. This type of change is particularly dependent on the development of relationships and trust.

The task of addressing the complex and interconnected problems of gangs through collaborative action involves a great deal of hard work that is both intellectually and emotionally challenging. It involves venturing into un-chartered territory with no clearly defined models to follow, and often discovering pathways during the journey. As Luke states, "with high levels of trust there is less discomfort at revealing personal interests, confronting disagreements and acknowledging errors. There is greater ease for the group to learn, to adjust and to self-correct as they negotiate action strategies. Finally, next to having sufficient funding, the development of strong bonds of trust is the key to sustaining an implementation network."Note 12

While trust and relationship building is highly dependent on the personal commitment and integrity of individuals, CSGV has made a conscious effort to create the conditions that lead to the development of a trusting network of relationships.


From the beginning CSGV invited a broad array of stakeholders to be part of "the community solution to gang violence." As long as individuals were interested in addressing issues of gang violence through a collaborative framework, they were welcome to join the initiative. Special attention was also paid to ensuring a diversity of perspectives and efforts, when recruiting key stakeholders to the table. Both the Steering Committee and Working Groups operated according to the norm that membership in the initiative is open and fluid. New members are invited to join to ensure the membership reflects the diversity of perspectives around gang violence and to broaden ownership of the issue.

Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities

Trust and faith in the process hinges on the belief that the process is legitimate and will lead to results. When addressing issues like gang violence where the problems are interconnected, the solutions are unclear, and multiple stakeholders are at the table, it can be easy to get bogged down in the complexities of the work. Although the vision helps members focus on the outcomes, the way of achieving these outcomes is not always so clear, particularly in the beginning. Therefore, it is critical that members know what each member and each component of the initiative needs to do to reach the desired outcomes. The organizational structure and the terms of reference for the Steering Committee, Secretariat and Working Groups is distributed to all members who join the initiative. This role clarity helps people understand how they and each function of the initiative fit into a coherent whole.

Influence and Transparency

One of the key factors in supporting and building upon the personal commitment of participants is to let them know that their ideas matter. To this end, the ideas and strategies generated by members at the Community Forums were recorded and CSGV demonstrated how these ideas were used to shape the direction of the initiative. Once Working Groups were formed, members were given the authority to establish norms to guide the behaviours, decision-making, and roles of individual group members. In addition, Working Groups were given the authority to develop strategies and action plans around their particular theme area. To ensure these actions were connected to the overall work of CSGV, the Chairs from each of the Working Groups sat on the Steering Committee to ensure their concerns, issues and actions are considered.

Clear Communication

Clear communication is often a challenge among many groups, and is a particular challenge in collaborative strategies like CSGV that bring together a broad array of stakeholders with differing perspectives. In addition, the stakeholders are performing different functions and developing and implementing strategies from different angles. Although this is the strength and essential purpose of collaborative action, it can also be the area of greatest weakness. To deal with these realities, CSGV established the following communication systems and networks to foster clear communication.

Communication Among and Between Steering Committee Members: Steering Committee members meet once a month to address the issues that arise from the collaborative effort, connect the issues that arise from the Working Groups, respond to issues arising within the community and keep the initiative focused on the overall vision and goal of the initiative. Agendas and meeting notes from these meetings are developed and distributed by the Project Manager. The Project Manager also provides monthly and quarterly activity reports on activities and issues arising from the work of the overall initiative.

Communication Between Steering Committee and Working Groups: Working Group Chairs provide the Steering Committee with monthly updates on the activities of the Working Group, bring Working Group issues to the table, and, along with the Project Manager, serve as a link between the Working Group and the Steering Committee.

Communication Among and Between Working Group Members: Working Groups meet once a month to move forward with the development and implementation of specific action plans and to identify issues that need to be addressed by the Steering Committee. They also share information and provide updates on activities within their own organizations. Agendas and meeting notes from these meetings are developed and distributed by the Working Group Chair or Facilitator.

Communication between CSGV and the Community: The work of CSGV is further communicated to the broader community through such vehicles as the CSGV Stakeholder Bulletin, and a web site that keeps people informed of the activities of CSGV. In addition, CSGV members spread the CSGV messages through their organizations, communities and collateral contacts. The Project Manager also maintains contact with the Edmonton Community Drug Strategy, Safedmonton, Edmonton Regional Crime Prevention Network, Prostitution Awareness Action Foundation of Edmonton, and numerous other community initiatives to ensure the actions of CSGV are linked to the ongoing issues and work of the broader community.

Vision Sharpens (Thinking and Acting Strategically)

While a collective must pay attention to the process-oriented conditions for success described above, in the end it is substantive progress and impact on community issues that brings people to invest in collaborative action. The way to this progress and impact is through concerted and strategic analysis of the problem. As was mentioned previously, the issue of gangs, and specifically the prevention of youth involvement in gangs, is not well understood. The majority of the literature and the models for preventing youth involvement in gangs are drawn from the United States, and are not based on the Canadian experience or more specifically on the situation in the Greater Edmonton area. As a result, one of the most significant focus areas of CSGV was collecting information on the local gang situation and crafting a strategic response. In the words of Luke, it required "thinking and acting strategically." According to LukeNote 13, strategic thinking requires four distinct sets of analytical skills, which follow.

Framing and Reframing the Issue of Gang Violence: The initial framing of the issue that focused on the interconnected nature of the problem and the need for a comprehensive interconnected response was useful for engaging and mobilizing the community around the issue. Similarly the initial vision statement that arose from the first Community Forum reinforced the need for collective action that was needed to address the issue.

The Greater Edmonton area is a safe and healthy community in which our youth and other citizens, agencies, institutions and government are sufficiently informed and empowered to value and take collective and individual responsibility for maintaining a community free of gang violence.

However, as useful as this initial framing was in mobilizing the community for action, it presented some difficulties in planning and sustaining action. First, the vision statement was too broad and all encompassing and did not focus on the end result of the collaborative action. Furthermore, it was determined that it was difficult to explain particularly to those who did not speak English or for whom English was a second language. As a result the vision statement was refined and sharpened as follows:

Edmonton and the surrounding area are free from gangs.

Second, there was little clarity about the issue itself or what specific actions and strategies were needed to "maintain a community free of gang violence." Although Working Groups were armed with ideas and strategies for addressing the multiple problems connected to gang violence, they did not have a solid framework for strategically thinking about how these strategies fit together. This lack of analysis resulted in some frustration and spinning of wheels as the Working Groups tried to develop integrated action plans around the four theme areas of the initiative: (Community Awareness, Early Intervention, Youth and Government and Policy). The conceptual connecting link between these areas was weak and the initiative faced the very real possibility of going off in different directions and not substantially changing the approach to the issue.

By "spiraling back"Note 14, we engaged in further exploration of the issue with a specific focus on learning more about the issue of gangs in the local context and understanding the conditions that give rise to gangs. This reflection-in-action is critical to the success of collaborative efforts where, as stated earlier, the pathways to success must be discovered during the journey. This exploration involved three key steps that lead to a more strategic framing of the gang violence issue.

1. Gained a deeper understanding about the local gang situation and determining how this was similar to or differed from information gained from other areas of Canada and other countries like the United States.

a. CSGV hosted seminars for the members where members from the Edmonton Police Service and ex-gang members described the circumstances and conditions surrounding the gangs and criminal network operating in the Greater Edmonton Area.

b. Working Groups shared and discussed their experiences and knowledge of the situations, dynamics and conditions surrounding the children, young people and families they were working with.

c. The Evaluation Team researched and published a paper that focused on the unique circumstances of Aboriginal gangs in Western Canada.

2. Developed case scenarios based upon our collective knowledge that described the realties and situations surrounding young people vulnerable to gang association and involvement.

a. Case scenarios were developed to show the complexities surrounding the lives of young people who may become vulnerable to gang involvement by weaving the knowledge and experience of service providers together to paint a human picture of the "gang situation." These case scenarios reflected the lives of young people from a variety of backgrounds: Caucasian, immigrant, refugee, Aboriginal, male and female. See Appendix 1

3. Developed a Risk and Protective Factor Framework To Highlight the Interconnectedness of the Problems and Solutions. See Appendix 2

Much of the literature on youth gangs identifies a number of risks associated with gang involvement in five key domains: individual, peer, family, school and community.Note 15 Risk factors are conditions in the individual or environment that predict an increased likelihood of developing difficulties such as gang involvement. However, experience and research around resiliency also shows that many children and young people who face situations of risk are able to overcome adversity and resist negative behaviour and high-risk situations. The reason for this is the presence of protective factors in young people's lives. Protective factors are conditions in the individual or environment that buffer or moderate the effects of risk factors. A related concept of positive youth development, most notably developed by the Search Institute, further explains the importance of developmental assets. These emphasize the importance of the quality of the social environment surrounding children including family, friends, school, and neighbourhoods. They're important for not only helping children mediate the impacts of risk, but are vital to helping children make positive transitions into adulthood.

Drawing from this evidence, and applying it to the local gang situation and the practice, knowledge and experience of local service providers, CSGV identified risk and protective factors for young people: family, school, community services and organizations, social and economic policy. These risk and protective factors provided a framework to help members of CSGV think about the factors that may lead to youth involvement in gangs and the conditions needed to help young people avoid gang involvement.

Identifying End Outcomes or Results: The CSGV Risk and Protective Factor Framework identifies the full range of risk and protective factors to be considered in developing a long-term comprehensive approach to gang violence. It is in fact a template for creating the conditions that will reduce the likelihood that youth will become involved in gangs. It is a template that is best utilized by drawing on the strengths of the community and building on the notion that everybody - young people, families, neighbours, schools, service organizations, police, recreational service providers, cultural organizations, businesses, funding organizations and government - is part of the community solution to gang violence.

Assessing Stakeholders Interests: The primary assumption of the CSGV initiative is that as the family, schools, service organizations, and community increase their capacity to address the multiple needs of at-risk youth and the interconnected issues that give rise to gang involvement, youth involvement in gangs will decline. As a convening organization, CSGV works to identify and engage a diverse group of stakeholders who have an interest in preventing youth involvement in gangs and whose actions are considered to be part of the "community solution to gang violence." CSGV has developed a Gang Prevention and Intervention Program Matrix that records information about the programs and services in the Greater Edmonton area that address the risk and protective factors in the CSGV Risk Protective Factor Framework. This matrix is available online at and serves as a major strategic planning tool. It enables the initiative, and the broader community, to identify common interests, areas for collaboration, and gaps in service. It should be noted that not all of the organizations identified in the matrix are actively involved in the CSGV initiative, but nonetheless have an interest in, or are contributing to its end result. The matrix is a way to continually assess who has a stake in the overall work of the CSGV initiative and who may at some point become involved in the collaborative action of CSGV.

Identifying Connections and Strategic Leverage Points: The interconnected problems associated with gangs require multiple strategies that target multiple leverage points. It is this reasoning coupled with the ideas put forward by the community that lead CSGV to adopt four key points for intervention:

  • Community Awareness: Provide information to the community about the conditions that give rise to gang violence and the action needed to prevent it.
  • Early Intervention: Provide families with tools and a network of support to create a caring, supportive environment for their children.
  • Youth: Provide young people with the support to avoid harmful behaviours and engage in the community in positive, healthy ways.
  • Government and Policy: Encourage all levels of government and service providers to create policies and programs that address gang violence and positive youth development.

The following model reflects how CSGV has established linkages between the interconnected problems, the multiple strategies for action, and the resulting outcomes of the initiative.

Facilitate dialogue among community, service providers, funders and policy makers about the underlying causes of youth gang involvement and the need to support community-based collaborative action to prevent youth involvement in gangs.

Obtaining Funding to Support the Work

The vast majority of the work of CSGV is undertaken by volunteers and much of the support for the initiative is provided through the in-kind services of member agencies. This participation comes at a cost to member agencies and to staff. Since few non-profit organizations have time for collaborative work built into their budgets, the extra time for participation in collaborative work is absorbed by agencies. However, since participation by member agencies is critical to the work of CSGV, their assistance is recognized by assigning a monetary value to in-kind contributions in the budget. For 2007-08, conservative estimates put in-kind contributions at over 45% of the budget. Last year, as CSGV was unable to obtain all the funding it needed to operate Native Counselling Services of Alberta, the host agency for CSGV, had to supplement the budget to ensure the work of CSGV continued. At the formative stages of CSGV, there simply was no financial support and the initiative depended entirely on in-kind contributions. As admirable as this may seem, comprehensive collaborative initiatives cannot function on in-kind contributions alone.

As Joseph Connor states: "Like the manager of a construction site who attends to the whole building while carpenters, plumbers and electricians come and go, the support staff keep the collaborative process moving along, even as the participants change."Note 16 Operational funds are needed to focus, direct and sustain the momentum and have a significant impact on preventing youth involvement in gangs. Members of the initiative are independent volunteers who have mandates, roles, and duties to fulfill within their own organizations. In order to participate in the CSGV initiative, the most they can do is to create the space and time to carry out tasks that arise from the collective work and carry messages and strategies for action back into their own organizations. They do not have the time, resources or mandate to manage the multiple interconnections and strategies required of a comprehensive community initiative like CSGV.

Staff support is absolutely essential to sustain the interdependent actions needed to move toward the vision and outcomes of the initiative. As Luke has identified a "multilateral broker" is needed to manage the collaborative work in three unique ways. "First, they connect common interests and mediate diverse interests among key implementers, highlight closely aligned interests, help network members connect and weave together shared interests, and manage the natural conflicts that emerge. Second, [they] encourage the development of trust. They do this, for example, by developing appropriate norms that enhance predictability and trust across a network and reduce the level of ambiguity and uncertainty in implementation. Third, they maintain focus on desired outcomes. They highlight small successes, maintain a commitment to learning and adaptation, and spiral back to earlier phases, while always keeping the ultimate outcome in mind."Note 17

As critical as the issue of gangs is in the Greater Edmonton area, as much as the community has emphasized the importance of preventing youth involvement in gangs and as much as the community has accepted responsibility for working collaboratively to address the issue, CSGV has consistently struggled to obtain the necessary funding to support the work. The reasons for this seeming reluctance to fund the initiative are rooted in the complexity of the gang issue and the nature of comprehensive community initiatives. The lack of understanding about the problem, the uncertainty about who is responsible for addressing the problem and the interconnected nature of the problem essentially leaves the issue in a funding vacuum.

Obtaining funding for CSGV has been a constant struggle; taking up countless hours that could have been better spent moving the project forward. Funding organizations often are not structured to support comprehensive community initiatives addressing complex issues. Instead, funders more readily support agencies with an orientation towards a direct cause and effect relationship between problems and solutions; that rely on direct services focusing on short-term outcomes; and that are not able to respond to interconnected problems requiring multiple strategies CSGV has refused offers of support to fund direct services and has had to rework and negotiate proposals for funding that walk a fine line between "doing what the funder wants" and staying true to the vision and mandate of the community. The result has been a patchwork of funding from such diverse groups as Canadian Heritage, United Way, Alberta Children's Services, Edmonton Police Foundation, Alberta Ministry of Gaming, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Family and Community Support Services, Solicitor General Proceeds of Crime. While this diversity of funding reflects the broad reach and interest of the issue, the complexity of preparing, reporting on and managing the administrative requirements of so many different funding bodies can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, it requires financial and administrative management systems that often stretch the capacity of many small non-profit organizations.

The ultimate condition of success for initiatives like CSGV is in part dependent on the ability of funding organizations to re-organize their funding criteria, categories and funding envelopes to support complex community work on complex community issues. Just as community groups and non-profit agencies have to work through the complexities of adapting their practices to engage in collaborative action, funding agencies have to come to grips with the complexities of funding such action. As Jay Connor states in Community Visions, Community Solutions: Grantmaking for Comprehensive Impact [communities] "need foundations that are prepared to work on the whole problem. The time has now come to pull back from the details and concentrate resources and effort more on the whole."Note 18

While these conditions for success have been presented in a linear style, the process of creating conditions for success within a collaborative effort are not linear and sequential. These conditions are interdependent with each one affecting and building upon the other. As new knowledge is discovered, new issues uncovered, trust and relationships developed, connections and linkages made, and new ways of working together are established - the conditions for success are strengthened. In this sense, the conditions for success would be more aptly visualized as a series of widening spirals that grow and evolve as the initiative itself grows and evolves.

Action, Learning and Change

The general strategy of the CSGV initiative is to use the Risk and Protective Factor Framework to raise awareness of the conditions that draw young people into gangs and the protective factors that are needed to create opportunities to promote the positive development of young people. The real challenge in this approach is to shift thinking from looking for quick fixes to one that addresses the deeper causes of youth involvement in gangs and the needs of children, youth and families. The goal is to rebuild the developmental infrastructure around children and young people, and shift the way we think about and respond to issues affecting the lives of children and young people. These shifts require dramatic and widespread changes that will take a sustained vision, long-term commitment, and collaborative effort by the community. As such, CSGV is not so much a project as a movement that acts on the notion that it takes a community to raise a child.

The process of moving from engaging the community in action, organizing for action, to implementing action, and sustaining momentum within community initiatives is difficult and complex. Since members involved in the initiative do not give up their independence, and the initiative is not driven or mandated by an external authority, CSGV must rely on nurturing the common interests of members and their desire to build the connections and relationships among a myriad of agencies to produce the desired outcomes. To this end, CSGV focuses its efforts around the following goals and objectives:

Goal: Create and sustain a collaborative process for working toward a community free of gang violence


  • Provide a clearinghouse for information on resources, strategies, services, best practices and funding to prevent, intervene in and suppress gang violence.
  • Provide information and guidance to funding agencies, community departments and community groups that will help develop policies and programs to support the reduction of gang violence.
  • Liaise and communicate with other communities across Canada engaged in similar work to share experiences and best practices.

Goal: Engage and support citizens, agencies, organizations and government to help create conditions for a community free of gang violence


  • Provide support for agencies and community members to come together to discuss and develop plans to address issues of gang violence and to increase their capacity to deal with the issues of gang violence.
  • Raise the profile of the impact of gang violence on individuals, families and communities and the ways various sectors of the community are dealing with the issue.
  • Engage in high level support and raise awareness of the need for government, funding bodies and community leaders to support community initiatives in prevention and intervention of gang violence.

Goal: Take individual and collective responsibility to create conditions for a community free of gang violence


  • Develop and implement action plans and strategies directed toward the prevention, intervention and suppression of gang violence

As these goals and objectives reveal, comprehensive community initiatives must not only involve detailing action plans, but must also involve continuous efforts toward community awareness and engagement of stakeholders. The stakeholders include those that are actively involved in the initiative, as well as those that have knowledge and influence in advancing the overall goals of the initiative.

CSGV was envisioned as a long-term change effort that was seen to occur over a five year period. We are now at the half-way mark and have a long way to go before we can realize the vision of a community free of gangs. However, we have made progress toward achieving the goals and outcomes of the initiative.

Create and sustain a collaborative process for working toward a community free of gang violence:

  • CSGV has grown from two people who initiated the idea of a comprehensive community approach to gangs to a membership of over 30 organizations who are involved in the initiative. Furthermore, the majority of Steering Committee members and many of the Working Group members have been involved in the initiative from the beginning.
  • CSGV has developed a website that provides a clearinghouse for information on resources, strategies, services, best practices and funding to prevent, intervene in and suppress gang violence. In addition the Gang Prevention and Intervention Program Matrix provides a data-base of services that records information about the programs and services in the Greater Edmonton Area that addresses the risk and protective factors in the CSGV Risk Protective Factor Framework.

Engage and support citizens, agencies, organizations and government to help create conditions for a community free of gang violence:

  • Gave presentations on the general gang situation and gang "problem" in the Edmonton area, an overview of the CSGV initiative and some ideas on how people could take action to help prevent young people from being drawn into gangs outside Alberta (170) and within the Greater Edmonton Area (440). These presentations are directed toward individuals and stakeholders not directly involved in the initiative but have an interest in the issue and who could potentially become involved or act as allies in advancing the goals of the CSGV initiative.
  • Held a Leadership Forum for key stakeholders and decision-makers to keep them informed of the work of the initiative and to renew their commitment to support the long-term goals and objectives of the initiative.

Take individual and collective responsibility to create conditions for a community free of gang violence:

  • Rooted within this goal are the more targeted outcomes of the CSGV Working Groups.

Community Awareness Working Group

The Community Awareness Group has framed their activities around building protective factors around children and young people in the community domain.

  • Conduct research on best practices for building protective factors in the community domain and share with community-based organizations identified in Gang Prevention and Intervention Program Matrix.
  • Give presentations and workshops to community groups on action they can take to build up protective factors in the community domain.
  • Provide networking opportunities with agencies working in the community domain to build protective factors in the community domain such as: bringing people together, promoting interaction between adults and young people, bringing people together from different cultural communities.

Initial Progress: The Community Awareness Group provided information to the community about the conditions that give rise to gang violence and the action needed to prevent it. To date this has been in the form of postcards, brochures and pamphlets that provide an overview of the CSGV initiative, the situation surrounding gangs in the Edmonton area and suggestions for action by parents, families, youth, neighbours, teachers, health and social service organizations, arts, recreation and cultural groups and the public sector.

Early Intervention Working Group

The Early Intervention Group has framed their activities around building protective factors around children and young people in the family domain:

  • Conduct research on best practices for asset development and share with family service organizations identified in Gang Prevention and Intervention Program Matrix.
  • Develop and deliver messages aimed at family serving organizations about the conditions that give rise to gang violence and the importance of building protective factors within the family domain.
  • Provide networking opportunities to build collaborative practices to build protective factors in the family domain such as: ( positive family communication, family problem-solving skills, raising children within two cultures, helping families who experience language and cultural barriers to become involved with their children outside the home).
  • Identify needs and gaps in service in family domain.
  • Identify common interests and points for collaboration between community groups, organizations and agencies to fill identified gaps in service.
  • Facilitate the development of an protocol which would articulate the relationships, level of partnership, information sharing, and resources required to fill identified gaps in service.
  • Assist organizations to deliver services to fill identified gaps in services by acting as a convener to link services to Gang Prevention and Intervention Program Matrix to help ensure new services develop are integrated into a comprehensive approach to prevent youth involvement in gangs.
  • Develop systems and supports to sustain an asset-based network of support around families and to support collaborative practice around gang prevention and intervention.

Initial Progress: The Early Intervention Group delivered presentations to family service organizations on ways they can support parents and families to build protective factors in the family domain to prevent youth involvement in gangs. These presentations are being delivered through established contacts and networks of the Early Intervention Group members to build inter-organizational relationships and broaden the network of support families need to prevent their children from being drawn into gangs and other high-risk behaviour.

Youth Working Group

The Youth Group has framed their activities around building protective factors within the individual domain (competencies and skills of young people).

  • Engage youth to share their stories and thoughts about the realities surrounding young people and the types of support young people need to resist risky behaviour and engage in positive healthy activities.
  • Organize youth focus group sessions with young people attached to member organizations (YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Inner City Youth Housing Project, Bosco Homes, John Howard Society, Elizabeth Fry Society, Edmonton Young Offenders Centre, Alberta Alcohol and Drug Commission, Multicultural Health Brokers, Edmonton Multicultural Society) to gain their input on issues such as gangs, youth violence, racism, immigration and settlement issues, services for youth and youth).
  • Work with young people involved in focus group discussions to host an annual Youth Forum on issues important to and affecting young people in the community.
  • Use the stories and input from youth to guide the development of programs and services to help youth avoid the gang lifestyle.
  • Provide networking opportunities to youth serving organizations to build protective factors in the individual domain such as: ( increasing positive relationships with adults, increasing roles for young people in the community and organizations, promoting cultural competence skills, engaging youth in equality and social justice issues, helping young people access services and resources).
  • Identify needs and gaps in service in individual domain.
  • Identify common interests and points for collaboration between community groups, organizations and agencies to fill identified gaps in service.
  • Facilitate the development of a protocol which would articulate the relationships, level of partnership, information sharing, and resources required to fill identified gaps in service.
  • Assist organizations to deliver services to fill identified gaps in services by acting as a convener to link services to Gang Prevention and Intervention Program Matrix to help ensure new services develop are integrated into a comprehensive approach to prevent youth involvement in gangs.
  • Develop systems and supports to sustain an asset-based network of support around youth and to support collaborative practice around gang prevention and intervention

Initial Progress: The Youth Group developed a structure and guidelines to gather stories from youth on their experiences with gangs, their efforts to avoid the gang lifestyle and strategies they employed to leave the gang lifestyle. These stories were posted on the website ( and are used to highlight the complexities and issues young people face in avoiding the gang lifestyle.

They also developed a process and guidelines to engage young people in conversations about the work of CSGV, youth involvement in gangs and the changes we need to create to prevent youth involvement in gangs. These dialogue sessions are carried out in partnership with individuals and groups who have existing and ongoing relationships with young people and will be used by CSGV to help shape and direct the activities of CSGV.

Government and Policy Working Group

The Government and Policy Group have framed their activities around building protective factors within the services/school/public policy domain:

  • Gather information on best practices and policies related to the prevention of gangs, youth violence and youth development.
  • Identify programs and services that are building assets/protective factors around young people in school domain and build working relationships with these organizations to create a network of support around children, young people and families.
  • Provide networking opportunities to schools to build protective factors in the school domain such as: (developing alternatives to suspension, involving parents in school, responding to social needs of children and their families).
  • Engage in dialogues with other working groups, community groups, schools, non-profits and governments about our research and findings.
  • Identify common interests and points for collaboration between community groups, organizations and agencies to fill identified gaps in school domain.
  • Facilitate the development of a protocol which would articulate the relationships, level of partnership, information sharing, and resources required to fill identified gaps in service.
  • Assist organizations to deliver services to fill identified gaps in services by acting as a convener to link services to Gang Prevention and Intervention Program Matrix to help ensure new services develop are integrated into a comprehensive approach to prevent youth involvement in gangs.
  • Host an annual Leadership Forum and Community Forum to share the outcomes of the project with leaders within government, school boards, police, corrections, immigrant and refugee agencies and non-profit social service agencies to discus gaps identified in services and the polices and programs needed to address these gaps in service.

Initial Progress: The Government and Policy Group contacted all the school boards in the Greater Edmonton area to identify the practices and polices they employed to respond to young people engaged in threatening and worrisome behaviour that affected the safety of other students and placed young people at risk of school suspension or expulsion. While these behaviours were not necessarily gang-related, experience has shown that young people engaged in such high-risk behaviours who are not in school face a much greater risk of gang involvement.Note 19 As a result of this environmental scan, the Government and Policy Group invited key decision-makers from the school boards, Children's Services, Mental Health and the police to learn about the Community Risk and Response Model developed in the community of Wetaskiwin that conducts a thorough assessment and action plan to address any threatening or worrisome behaviour that may place students at-risk. The intent of this seminar was to share best practices and promote the connection and sharing of information, models and policies that could have a significant impact on preventing youth involvement in gangs and other high-risk behaviour.

Renewal or Wind Down

CSGV is just in the process of completing its first cycle around our Collaborative Model. We held a Forum attended by the Steering Committee and Working Groups to look back and celebrate our accomplishments, reflect on their learning and adjust plans for the future. Some of the key information that came out of this collective reflection and analysis is reproduced below.

Celebrating the work and outcomes generated to date

While many of the tasks and activities described in the proceeding section were brought forward at this session, there were other process related outcomes that speak to the personal experience of being a part of a collaborative effort and the impact this work has had on the individuals involved and the community in general:

  • Attracted and maintained a core group of people who have been meeting monthly to address the issue (many of them for over three years) yet are open and flexible to accept new members. Members of the Working Groups bring passion and commitment to addressing the issue of gangs and are solution focused.
  • Put issue of youth and gang violence on the public agenda. Created a safe place to talk about the issue of gangs for youth and for the members involved in the initiative. The Greater Edmonton Area is more aware of gangs, why young people join gangs and action needed to prevent youth involvement in gangs. The community has a place to turn to for information and support to deal with the gang issue.
  • Expanded network of people involved in issue and fostered ongoing networks and relationships that carry into individual agencies that has in turn fostered collaboration over other projects (i.e. Clean Scene and Boys and Girls Club are hosting a series of summer information sessions, CSGV has worked in partnership with YOUCAN to promote youth dialogues).
  • Helped to break down silos between individual agencies by spreading the word about the importance of networking and collaboration to add value to each others work.
  • Established a shared circle of responsibility to address the issue and created a space for people to come together to make a difference and have an impact that they could not accomplish alone. The multiple partners in CSGV are able to carry the messages about gangs, positive youth development and action to prevent youth involvement in gangs to a many youth and families through their established networks.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *