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Comprehensive Gang Model

Ages 12-25

Rating: Level 2


The Comprehensive, Communitywide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program (also known as the Comprehensive Gang Strategy, the Comprehensive Gang Model, or the Spergel Model) is based on the assumption that gang violence is a product of social disorganization. The model presumes that gangs become chronic and serious problems in communities where key organizations are inadequately integrated and sufficient resources are not available to target gang-involved youth. To address these problems, the Comprehensive Gang Model calls for community institutions—including law enforcement, social welfare agencies, and grass roots organizations—to work together to achieve a more integrated, team-oriented approach. The model identifies five core elements, or strategies, that communities should incorporate into their programs to achieve successful outcomes:

1. Community mobilization. Local citizens and organizations are involved in a common enterprise. The program consists of local police officers, probation officers, community youth workers, church groups, boys and girls clubs, a Latino community organization, and several local residents who work as a team to understand the gang structures and provide social intervention and social opportunities whenever they can.
2. Social intervention. The program reaches out to youths unable to connect with legitimate social institutions. A youth, the gang structure, and the environmental resources must be taken into account before the youth is provided with crisis counseling, family counseling, or referral to services such as drug treatment, jobs, training, educational programs, or recreation.
3. Provision of social opportunities. Youths at different points in their lives need different things. Older gang members may be ready to enter the legitimate job field and need training and education to do so. Younger youths at risk of becoming gang members may need alternative schools or family counseling. The program provides individualized services for each youth based on his or her needs.
4. Suppression. This not only consists of surveillance, arrest, probation, and imprisonment to stop violent behavior but also involves great communication between agency service providers and control providers. All providers jointly decide what happens to a particular youth when trouble arises or when it is about to.
5. Organizational change and development of local agencies and groups. All workers need to work closely with one another and collaborate. Former gang members working as community youth workers need to be given as much respect as the police officers in the program. Each group can provide important information for the program that the other may not be able to obtain.

To date, the Comprehensive Gang Model has been tested in at least six sites across the country. From 1992 through 1995, the Chicago Police Department ran the Gang Violence Reduction Project—a comprehensive, communitywide program designed to reduce serious violence in Chicago’s gang-ridden Little Village neighborhood. In 1994 OJJDP also launched a series of 4- and 5-year demonstration projects, testing the model in five different cities: Bloomington–Normal, Ill.; Mesa, Ariz.; Riverside, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; and Tucson, Ariz.


The Little Village Gang Violence Reduction Project in Chicago was evaluated by Spergel and Grossman using a quasi-experimental design. The evaluation collected and analyzed data on 493 youths who were either program youths (195), quasiprogram youths who received some services (90), or a comparison group who did not receive services (208). The quasiprogram and comparison youths consisted of selected members of the same two gangs, the Latin Kings and the Two Six. The distinguishing feature between the quasiprogram and comparison youths was service contacts. Evaluators discovered that some gang members selected as part of the comparison group did receive some sort of service contact. These members became the quasiprogram group. Data collection included interviews, criminal history records, aggregate level police arrest data, field observations, community surveys, and focus groups. Respondents in all three groups were asked about their activities in relation to a series of 16 crimes, 9 of which involved violence either with or without a weapon and 7 of which were property related. The youths were also asked about drug-selling behavior. A series of indexes was constructed from these questions and used to determine the ratio of violence to property crime as well as violence to drug-selling activity.

Spergel and a group of colleagues at the University of Chicago also evaluated all five of the sites involved in OJJDP’s national demonstration project. Although there were minor variations in the evaluation design at each of the sites, all five programs were assessed using a quasi-experimental research design. Treatment groups in each locale (varying in size from 101 to 258 subjects, ages 12–21) were matched with appropriate control groups from comparable neighborhoods outside the treatment area. Individual and group progress was then tracked using arrest data, field observations, project contact and service records, and surveys and interviews of program staff and participants. Multivariate statistical models were used to control for differences in demographic background, previous arrest history, and other distinguishing characteristics between program youths and comparison youths. The national evaluation team also conducted organizational surveys, interviews, focus groups, and site visits to collect qualitative data on the implementation of the Comprehensive Gang Model at each site.


Spergel and Grossman’s initial evaluation of the Little Village site concluded that serious gang violence among the targeted gang members was lower than among members of comparable gangs in the area. Specifically, there were fewer arrests for serious gang crimes (especially aggravated batteries and aggravated assaults) involving members of targeted gangs in comparison with a control group of youths from the same gangs and members of other gangs in Little Village. It appears that the coordinated project approach, using a combination of various social interventions involving youth outreach workers and suppression tactics, was more effective for more-violent youths, while the sole use of youth workers was more effective for less-violent youths. The study also found that the project was apparently most effective in assisting older youths to significantly reduce their criminal activities (particularly violence) more quickly than would have been the case if no project services had been provided. However, the project did not appear to be effective with younger youths. Finally, residents of the target area reported significantly greater improvement in community conditions, perceptions of gang crime, and police effectiveness in dealing with gang crime.

The evaluation of the national OJJDP demonstration project produced mixed results. Two of the five cities involved in the initiative reported positive outcomes. Youths enrolled in Riverside, Calif.’s program (Building Resources for the Intervention and Deterrence of Gang Engagement) were “three times as successful in the odds ratio of success to failure in reducing serious-violence arrests as comparison youth.” Program youths also had a lower ratio of failure to success for repeat drug arrests, and local crime records indicate that serious violence offenses, less-serious violence offences, and property offenses all declined substantially throughout the Riverside community during the program’s operation. Similarly, youths involved in the Mesa Gang Intervention Program had arrest levels 18 percent lower than comparison youth over a 4-year period. The targeted area also experienced a 10.4 percent greater reduction in selected juvenile-type crimes than the control area. However, the remaining three OJJDP demonstration sites (Bloomington–Normal, Ill.; San Antonio, Texas; and Tucson, Ariz.) all reported no statistically significant change in arrest patterns at either the individual or community level as a result of treatment. Based on the qualitative data collected in interviews, focus groups, and organizational surveys, Spergel concludes that the lack of treatment effect in these three communities resulted from poor program implementation. All three communities had difficulty establishing successful interagency collaborations and tended to neglect one or more of the five required program elements (community mobilization, social intervention, etc.).

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing


  • Availability of firearms
  • Community crime/High crime neighborhood
  • Community instability
  • Social and physical disorder/Disorganized neighborhood


  • Gang involvement/Gang membership
  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use

Protective Factors


  • Safe environment / Low neighborhood crime


  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • NIJ: What Works


Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. 1999. “Reducing Youth Gang Violence in Urban Areas: One Community’s Effort.” On Good Authority 2(5):1–4.

———. 2000. “Outcomes of the Gang Violence Reduction Project.” On Good Authority 4(3):1–4.

Spergel, Irving A., and Susan F. Grossman. 1997. “The Little Village Project: A Community Approach to the Gang Problem.” Social Work 42:456–70.

Spergel, Irving A., K.W. Wa, S.E. Choi, Susan F. Grossman, A. Jacob, A. Spergel, and E.M. Barrios. 2003. Evaluation of the Gang Violence Reduction Project in Little Village: Final Report Summary. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.

Spergel, Irving A., K.W. Wa, and R.V. Sosa. 2005a. Evaluation of the Bloomington–Normal Comprehensive Communitywide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program: Final Report Summary. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.

———. 2005b. Evaluation of the Mesa Gang Intervention Program: Final Report Summary. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.

———. 2005c. Evaluation of the Riverside Comprehensive Communitywide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program: Final Report Summary. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.

———. 2005d. Evaluation of the San Antonio Comprehensive Communitywide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program: Final Report Summary. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.

———. 2005e. Evaluation of the Tucson Comprehensive Communitywide Approach to Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Program: Final Report Summary. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.


Irving A. Spergel
School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago
969 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637–2640
Phone: (773) 702-1134
Fax: (773) 702-0874