How Does Gang Violence Influence the Crime Rate in Chicago?

How Does Gang Violence Influence the Crime Rate in Chicago?


Chicago is currently ranked as one of the most crime-infested cities in the U.S. The problem is worsened by the ongoing gang violence, which is responsible for almost 50 percent of the homicides committed within the city. The current study examines the extent to which gang violence influences the crime rate in Chicago. The research is justified by the limited empirical evidence on the reasons for the high crime rate in the city. Primary data will be collected from members of the Black Disciples, which is a street gang in Chicago. The study population was selected because they can provide first-hand experiences about the nature of the violence they commit as well as its overall implication on crime rates in Chicago. The expected results are likely to indicate that the increased presence of gangs in Chicago has a significant impact on and drug-related violence.

            Keywords: gang violence, crime rate, drug-related violence, gang members, public safety.


How does gang violence influence the crime rate in Chicago?

The crime rate in Chicago, especially gang violence, is relatively higher than the U.S average. The city was responsible for nearly half of 2018’s increase in homicides across the country.  The current problem under study involves the ongoing debate about the extent to which gang violence influences the crime rate in Chicago. The lack of sufficient research coupled with the fact that researchers and analysts have been unable to reach a consensus on the cause for the high crime rate in the city is the primary motivation for this project. The primary study objective involves establishing how gang violence influences the overall crime rate in Chicago. The research aims to answer four research questions. The first is to establish the intensity of the gang-drug-violence connection. Second is to find out how street gangs pose a significant threat to public safety in Chicago. The third is to establish whether gang members engage in a higher level of serious and violent crime than their non-gang-involved peers and lastly is to confirm the extent to which gang violence influence the crime rate in Chicago. The project leverages an experimental research design to add to the existing literature about gang violence and the high crime rates in the U.S cities. As such, the completed research will provide law enforcement agencies and community help groups with the information necessary to mitigate the gang menace in Chicago. Policymakers and other key decision-makers are likely to approach the gang problem using a holistic prevention model once they receive the study results. Currently, the police have been unable to alleviate the gang problem due to a lack of cooperation from the community. However, the study findings highlight the importance of law enforcement agencies in increasing the level of cooperation with the community in reducing the impact of gangs on Chicago’s crime rates. In response to these literature gaps, the following three hypotheses have been developed based on limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

HO1: The increased presence of gangs in Chicago has a significant impact on drug-related violence.

HO2: The rising number of turf wars among street gangs in Chicago has a significant impact on public safety.

HO3: A rise in gang violence in Chicago causes a corresponding rise in the crime rate.

Literature Review

The ensuing discussion explores the prior research conducted that relates to the study topic. Also, the inherent gaps in prior research, as well as problems raised in previous research designs, will be examined and addressed. The literature review is divided into three themes, including Chicago gangs and drug-related violence, street gangs’ impact on public safety, and gang members and violent crime.

Chicago Gangs and Drug-Related Violence

According to Hagedorn and Rauch (2007), Chicago gangs generate most of their revenues from trafficking drugs, which is estimated to be worth around $352 billion. Consequently, gang violence is an everyday phenomenon in the city since drugs are directly related to crime as drug production and trafficking is mainly controlled by organized gangs who aggressively protect their turfs (Klein, Weerman, & Thornberry, 2006; Sanders, 2017). Papachristos and Kirk (2006) note that the economic hardships experienced in poor neighborhoods often reinforce the growth of drug gangs. As such, poorer neighbourhoods are more likely to experience higher crime rates since they harbor more gangs compared to the wealthier areas. Sampson (2012) notes that poverty in the Chicago suburbs continues to grow as experienced over the past two decades. People of color and Latinos have the highest poverty rates. Thus, most gangs comprise Blacks and Hispanics. Hagedorn and Rauch’s (2007) and Papachristos and Kirk’s (2006) work are significant for this study because they highlight the connection between Chicago’s crime rates and the gangs and drug-related violence. However, the author’s concept of drug-related crime is too broad, especially in its failure to establish how gang violence influences the crime rates in Chicago. The proposed study will bridge this gap in the literature by focusing on the various ways gang violence fuels the crime rates in the city.

Street Gangs Impact on Public Safety

According to Petersilia (2001), prisons strengthen street gang ties, which in turn undermine the public’s safety. In an attempt to protect their turfs, gang members often engage in gun shoot outs, which may result in the death or injury of bystanders. Melde and Rennison (2010) further add that gang members are likely to intimidate victims and bystanders to deter them from cooperating with law enforcement officers. Consequently, street gangs have a significant impact on public safety.

Gang Members and Violent Crime

Gang members are associated with acts of violence against civilians, other gangs, as well as law enforcement officers. Throughout history, such actions have been committed by gangs irrespective of their rank in the organization (Papachristos & Kirk, 2006). Modern gangs in Chicago often use violence as a rite of passage for recruits. As such, new members are already oriented and accustomed to violence, and the trend continues throughout their gang life. In 2006, 45 percent of Chicago murders were gang-related (Decker & Curry, 2002; Taylor, Peterson, Esbensen, & Freng, 2007). Current reports of gang-related homicides are focused mostly on the largest cities in the U.S, where there are long-standing and persistent gang problems. Decker, Katz, and Webb’s (2008) and Papachristos and Kirk’s (2006) literal works are essential in appraising the relationship between gang members and violent crimes. However, the literature fails to highlight the extent to which gang violence influences the crime rate in Chicago.

Research Design and Methods

The proposed study will use an experimental research approach to confirm that a change in the dependent variable is solely due to the manipulation of the independent variable. The research design was selected because it will provide the researcher with a high level of control. Moreover, the research design will provide specific conclusions regarding how gang violence influences the crime rate in Chicago.


The primary research question is causal because the study is designed to determine whether one variable (gang violence) causes a change in other variables (increased crime rates). An experimental research design will be used. Apart from providing the researcher with a high level of control and specific conclusions, the research design also helps the cause and effect to be determined. The inherent manipulation of variables will allow the researcher to look at different cause-and-effect relationships that can be produced. As such, the research can dig deeper into what is possible.

The study is cross-sectional because it leverages data gathered using observations to study the sampled population in Chicago at a single point in time. The researcher will be required to record information about the participants without changing or manipulating the natural environment in which they exist. The approach allows the researcher to compare different samples at a time.


The key independent variable in HO1is the presence of gangs in Chicago, while in HO2, it is the rising number of turf wars among street gangs in Chicago. Finally, the independent variable in HO3 is the rise in gang violence in Chicago. The researcher will try and control these variables in the experiment to test the effects on the following dependent variable. For HO1, the dependent variable is the drug-related violence, while for HO2, it is public safety. Finally, for HO3, it is a crime rate. The dependent variables will be tested and measured in the experiment. Consequently, as the researcher changes the independent variable, the effect on the dependent variable will be observed and recorded for father analysis. The operational definition of the variables refers to the specific ways in which the researcher will evaluate conceptual measures. Since the study objective involves establishing how gang violence influences the crime rate in Chicago, then the outcome measure (dependent variable) should be the count of the crimes committed in the city.


The key variables will be measured using ratio scales because they allow a researcher to compare the inherent intervals and differences. The ratio scale has most of the characteristics of the other three variable measurement scale, which include the nominal, ordinal, and interval scales. Firstly, the nominal variables are used when naming and labeling a series of values. Secondly, the ordinal scales provide sufficient data about the order of choices to allow the researcher to develop a better understanding of the study topic using a customer satisfaction survey. Finally, the interval scales provide the researcher with the order of each value to quantify the difference between each. Therefore, the ratio scale will help the researcher understand the ultimate-order, values, as well as the intervals.

The researcher will not conduct pre-tests or post-tests due to the nature of the dependant and independent variables. Firstly, it is hard to discern whether the positive change charted in a pre-post-test is a result of natural maturation or learning. Due to gang members being incarcerated or killed, the post-test results may be higher because those who remain in the gang are more effective and persistent. The reliability of the ratio scales is consistent and dependable. As such, the scale can be used to measure the same construct multiple times and give the same results every time. A more reliable measurement may be to use a weight scale, where one is likely to get the same value every time he/she steps on the scale unless his/her weight has changed between measurements. The reliability will be increased by using sufficient questions to assess competence.

Moreover, the research will be conducted in a consistent environment with sufficient participants. The measures are valid because the test results are consistent. The test environment must remain consistent by ensuring all participants have the same amount of time to take the test in a similar environment. Some of the possible weaknesses for the measurement approach involve challenges associated with victim surveys as well as problems with relying on crimes reported to the police department. Moreover, the interviewer is likely to be biased when asking the questions.


The primary population under study involves members of the Black Disciples, a street gang that was founded in 1958 by David Barksdale in Chicago. Gang members are predominately African-American. While the Black Disciple was formed by a group of pre-teen boys who got together to form an organization that would help fight against the civil rights injustices and wild gangs around them, they have since grown to one of the most feared criminal enterprises in Chicago. The population was selected because they can share first-hand experiences about the nature of their violence and its implication on crime rates in Chicago. The sample frame will be constructed using purposive sampling. A total of 40 gang members will be included in the study sample. The sampling approach was selected because it is easier to make generalizations about the study compared to random samples. Moreover, only the participants who met the inclusion criterion of being a gang member with the Black Disciples were included in the study.

Data Collection

Data will be gathered through face-to-face interviews and recorded for further analysis. Three close-ended and four open-ended questions will be used to gather primary data. Table 1 shows an outline of the open and close-ended questions used to gather data. The face-to-face interviews were selected to gather data due to their accurate screening of the study participants and their ability to capture both verbal and non-verbal cues.

Table 1

Outline of the open and close-ended questions used to gather data

Close-ended question
1 How long have you been a gang member?
2 How many times have you engaged in a violent confrontation?
3 Have you ever assaulted any member of the public?
Open-ended question
1 Do you believe that gang activity is directly connected with the current drug-related violence in Chicago?
2 What are your views on street gangs being perceived as a threat to public safety in Chicago?
3 Do you, as a gang member, engage in higher-level violent crimes?
4 Do you think street gangs are the primary cause of criminal activity in the city?


The statistical conclusion validity is correct because the study leverages quantitative, statistical, and qualitative data in making inferences about the data gathered. However, the researcher acknowledges that the two types of errors likely to occur include identifying the differences or correlation when none exists and finding no difference or correlation when one exists. Consequently, these two errors pose significant threats to internal validity.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The experimental research design provides sufficient control over variables. This kind of research examines the independent controlling variables and eliminates the extraneous and unwanted ones. Also, it helps determine the cause and effect relationship and provides better results due to the specific control setups and strict conditions the researcher is required to adhere to. However, the study approach is limited by the fact that it creates artificial situations and is subject to human error. Some of the experimental research involves controlling irrelevant variables on certain occasions, which in turn creates an artificial situation. Finally, the participants are more likely to influence the environment. These weaknesses will be mitigated by using several people to code the data as well as having the participants review the final results.

Analytic Approach

The primary units of analysis are individuals, specifically gang members.  Consequently, the analytic approach that will be used involves a combination of thematic analysis and descriptive statistics. Thematic analysis will be used to analyze the emergent themes in the qualitative data gathered using the open-ended questions, while descriptive statistics will be used to appraise the quantitative data collected using the close-ended questions. The anticipated results as a consequence of the project’s activities are the confirmation of HO1, HO2, and HO3. Firstly, the data gathered and analyzed is likely to show that the increased presence of gangs in Chicago has a significant impact on the drug-related violence in the city. Secondly, the inferences made about the rising number of turf wars among street gangs in Chicago are that they undermine public safety. Finally, the recent rise in gang violence causes an increase in Chicago’s crime rate. Consequently, the data gathered and analyzed will help establish how gang violence influences the crime rate in Chicago.

The three key stakeholders in the study include the participants, local communities within Chicago, and the researcher. The participants will provide the key data necessary to complete the study while the local communities will provide the context for the study. Finally, the researcher will be required to gather and analyze primary data to conclude the relationship between gang violence and the crime rate in Chicago. The researcher plans to present the final results at conferences. As such, the research will assimilate a report format that can be presented to business leaders as well as be published in a scientific journal.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

One of the primary ethical problems with the study involves concerns about the dangers of participation for both the participants and the researcher. They will be placing their lives at risk by agreeing to take part in the study. For example, the researcher is likely to be harmed if a shootout occurs when interviewing the participants. Similarly, the gang members might face retribution from their counterparts for agreeing to talk to an outsider about issues that are otherwise perceived as privileged information. The researcher will mitigate the inherent physical and psychological risks by ensuring the participants’ privacy is protected. Moreover, the researcher will ensure the study occurs in a safe space to guarantee his security.

Participation will be voluntary, and the participants can discontinue at will. However, informed consent will be ensured by signing a contract, and subjects will not be deceived in any way. Issues of data confidentiality and anonymity are likely to arise when the participants identifying information such as names are disclosed to third parties. Legal issues are likely to arise when such information is disclosed to the law enforcement agencies that are likely to take action against the study subjects. Other approaches that will be employed to ensure confidentiality involve keeping the subject’s records secure through the use of password protected files and encryption, especially when sending information over the internet. Moreover, the researcher will be cautious not to record the interviews in a manner that links subject responses with identifying information. Because subjects may often not be identified by names alone, but by other identifiers, or by combinations of information about subjects, researchers will often only report aggregate findings, not individual-level data, to the public.