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Hardcore Gang Investigations Unit—Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office

Ages 12-35

Rating: Level 2


Hardcore Gang Investigations Unit, a prosecutorial gang suppression program formerly known as Operation Hardcore, was created by the Los Angeles (Calif.) District Attorney’s Office in 1979 to improve the prosecution of gang cases. The unit targets habitual gang offenders countywide and prosecutes them either in juvenile or criminal courts. The unit is self-contained within the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and offers gang cases high-priority prosecutorial handling in terms of the caliber of attorneys assigned to the cases, the time and resources available to the attorneys (including investigative support and reduced caseloads), and specialized resources for assisting witnesses. The Hardcore Gang Investigations Unit’s distinctive features include early involvement, vertical prosecution (the prosecutor who files the case remains with it throughout the prosecution process), reduced caseloads, additional investigative support, and resources for assisting victims. The majority of resources are devoted to attorney and investigative staff.


Operation Hardcore was evaluated in 1981, using an interrupted time-series design with comparison groups. Owing to limited data on juvenile cases, the analysis concentrated on adult court handling. Incidents involving a gang-related homicide during 1976–80 were included in the sample. The evaluation compared three groups:

1. The post–Hardcore Program Group (cases prosecuted by Operation Hardcore during 1979–80)
2. The post–Hardcore No Program Group (cases prosecuted during 1979–80 that would have been prosecuted by Operation Hardcore had the resources been available)
3. The pre–Hardcore No Program Group (cases prosecuted during 1976–78 that would have qualified for Operation Hardcore had the program been implemented at that time)

Data on the characteristics of incidents, suspects, victims, and criminal justice handling was collected from police and prosecutor records. The cases were compared on type of disposition, strength of conviction, and sentencing outcome.


Defendants prosecuted by Operation Hardcore were prosecuted at a significantly higher rate than the two comparison groups: 95 percent by Operation Hardcore versus 78 percent non-Hardcore and 71 percent pre-Hardcore. Defendants prosecuted by Operation Hardcore had a significantly lower rate of dismissal than the other two groups: 5 percent versus 18 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Defendants prosecuted by Operation Hardcore had higher rates of conviction than the two comparison groups: 100 percent versus 78 percent and 76 percent, respectively. The rate of plea bargains increased for both Hardcore (68 percent) and non-Hardcore (63 percent) defendants compared with pre-Hardcore defendants (41 percent). Trial rates declined both for Operation Hardcore defendants (26 percent) and for non-Hardcore defendants (19 percent) since the period before the program began (37 percent).

The defendants prosecuted by the program are significantly more likely to be convicted of the most serious charge filed against them: 26 percent for Operation Hardcore defendants versus 14 percent for non-Hardcore and 15 percent for pre-Hardcore. Operation Hardcore defendants are also significantly more likely to be incarcerated (93 percent versus 74 percent and 64 percent, respectively) and more likely to be committed to a State prison (81 percent versus 68 percent and 74 percent, respectively).

Risk Factors


  • Community crime/High crime neighborhood
  • Community instability
  • Neighborhood youth in trouble

Protective Factors


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance
  • Safe environment / Low neighborhood crime


Dahmann, Judith. 1983. An Evaluation of Operation Hardcore: A Prosecutorial Response to Violent Gang Criminality. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.


Hard Core Gang Division
Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office
210 West Temple Street, Room 17–1116
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 974-3963
Fax: (213) 633-4675
Web site: