That seems to be one of the takeaways of a UCLA-led study published online this week in the journal Criminology.
Researchers mapped out turf in the LAPD's Eastside Hollenbeck Division and found that most of the gang-related crime happened on or near the borders between sets. According to a UCLA summary of the study:
... The research demonstrates that the most dangerous place to be in a neighborhood packed with gangs is not deep within the territory of a specific gang, as one might suppose, but on the border between two rival gangs. In fact, the highest concentration of conflict occurs within less than two blocks of gang boundaries, the researchers discovered.
Lead author P. Jeffrey Brantingham, a professor of anthropology at UCLA, told us that the boundaries are where gangsters are more likely to run into each other and, thus, shoot, assault and kill one another:
It's on the boundary where you get the interactions happening. When fighting does occur it doesn't have to be the result of a state of warfare between gangs. Even a little compeittion is enough to generate territoriality.
Brantingham's team looked studied 563 crimes of 13 gangs in the 6.5-square-mile area of the Hollenbeck Division between 1999 and 2002, with the help of the LAPD and with the data sets of UC Irvine associate criminology professor George E. Tita.
While that might seem like old data, it's actually "richer" because there was more gang crime back then, Brantingham argues. The research found that nearly 60 percent of the crimes happened within two blocks of the borders between gangs.
The professor says that while incursions into the heart of enemy territory seem to spark retaliation, the intentions of borderline assaults are met with more confusion. When a rival attacks in core turf ...
... it means business. When it's in the core of the territory there's no ambiguity. It's an attack that requires immediate retaliation.
Interestingly, Brantingham says efforts at gang truces and mediation can actually spark an uptick in gang crime, as friendly meetings between sets bring rivals together, a rare occurrence that often correlates with violence:
If you engage in gang intervention strategies that seek to reduce animosity between gangs, over the short term that might increase the interaction in overlaping territories. This will actually increase the amount of gangs' violent interaction.
But if you see a small spike in gang violence as a result of intervention that seeks to reduce animosity, that doesn't mean long-term strategies are a bad thing.
The professor says the findings could have implications for police strategy. He says:
People often assume that territory comes first and gangs fight over it. This flips it on its head. It's that process of competition which creates territories as a byproduct.