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Police-Probation/Parole Partnerships: Responding to Local Street Gang Problems

By Adam K. Matz, M.S., Research Associate, American Probation and Parole Association, Lexington, Kentucky; Matthew T. DeMichele, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Penn State University, Department of Sociology, Crime, Law, and Justice, State College, Pennsylvania; and Nathan C. Lowe, M.S., Research Associate, American Probation and Parole Association, Lexington, Kentucky

treet gang violence is a concern for many inner cities. The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) reported the existence of an estimated 33,000 gangs and 1.4 million gang members in the United States, mostly consisting of urban street gangs. 1 More than 50 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies report that gang behavior exists within their local communities. Though previously thought of as an urban phenomenon, gangs have been expanding their influence into predominantly rural and suburban communities, including more than 400 gangs and 4,500 gang members believed to reside on tribal reservations.2 Research shows more than half of all homicides in many major cities involve gang-related youth in possession of firearms.3 In some major U.S. cities, up to 80 percent of homicide offenders and 56 percent of homicide victims were under probation or parole supervision at the time of the crime.4 Researchers in Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, discovered 44 percent of homicide and gun assault offenders were under probation supervision at the time the homicide occurred.5

Justice agencies are aware of the most violent—often gang-affiliated—offenders, and community corrections agencies are likely supervising them. The problem, however, is a systemic failure to communicate. Recent court rulings have demonstrated the advantages law enforcement has when working with their local community corrections agency.6 The U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Knights upheld a warrantless search by a law enforcement detective of a probationer when such a search was agreed upon as a condition of the individual’s probationary release and in furtherance of probation’s public safety goals.7 With such a precondition of probation supervision, law enforcement acted more expeditiously through awareness of the suspect’s probationary status. As a result, in this case, the burden of proof requirement of the search was reduced from probable cause to a reasonable suspicion.8 The net result was increased officer safety and swifter action. In addition, when law enforcement officers are aware of probationers/parolees in their communities, they serve as additional eyes on the street for probation and parole officers, further holding probationers/parolees accountable for noncompliance and offering encouragement for pro-social behavior change. Law enforcement officers can offer a street presence to community supervision, and community corrections officers can provide law enforcement vital justice-related intelligence—but only if viable police-probation/ parole partnerships are developed and maintained within the community.

This article provides a brief overview of street gang recidivism, discusses the potential of police-probation/parole partnerships, and introduces the American Probation and Parole Association’s (APPA) C.A.R.E. (collaboration, analysis, reentry, and evaluation) model. Similar to other justice agencies, community corrections agencies are tasked with doing more with less given austere budgetary realities. As a result, partnerships are more vital today in achieving successful reentry outcomes than in past years. The complicated nature of gun and gang violence further requires an integrated justice response that takes into account the unique needs and resources of the community. Considering reentry, human service and faith-based organizations are fundamental in providing assistance to individuals returning to the community. Evaluation is the final component of the C.A.R.E. model. One cannot measure a program’s success without conducting a thorough program evaluation, whether internally or by using an external researcher. Such evaluations provide justification for continued funding and the potential for positive program changes.

Street Gang Recidivism

Research conducted on a sample of adult parolees in Chicago found gang members were more likely to recidivate (that is, be rearrested while under community supervision), and recidivate sooner, than nongang members. This research found that during one year, 60 percent of gang members were rearrested—compared to about 49 percent of nongang members. In two years, 75 percent of gang members were rearrested for a new offense compared to 63 percent for nongang members. On average, gang members were rearrested 229 days from release as compared to 249 days for non-gang members. Further, gang members were more likely to be involved in drug and violent crimes.9 Consistent with criminality in general, with exception to life-course criminals, gang members typically age-out of criminal behaviors after young adulthood. David Olson and colleagues found gang members possess risk factors associated with higher recidivism rates. These risk factors include age, gender, race, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, negative peer influences, extensive criminal histories, and low social achievement. Gang members often live in urban inner-city areas characterized by high unemployment, limited social services, dilapidated housing, few educational opportunities, and high crime rates.

Though there exists a great deal of research concerning why youth join gangs and the dangers the gang subculture may introduce, there is less known about what factors or programs help youth desist from gang membership and crime. Research has found that in an institutional setting, gang members who received cognitive-behavioral treatment following the risk, need, and responsivity principles had significantly lower rates of recidivism than untreated gang members.10 In addition, cognitive-behavioral programs have been mdemonstrated to be, over the long term, a cost-effective intervention.11 Former gang members have cited employment and job training as essential in turning individuals away from the gang lifestyle and to a more pro-social, conventional life.12 The following section explains how law enforcement can be engaged in the reentry process through partnership with local community corrections agencies.

Police-Probation/Parole Partnerships

Considered one of the first formalized police-probation/parole partnerships, Boston’s Operation Night Light was developed in the early 1990s in response to an increase in gang-related violence.13 The program aimed to reduce gang-related violence and juvenile recidivism through increased suppression (for example, curfews and association restrictions). A partnership between the Boston police and probation officers involved joint patrols in which, together, they supervised high-risk probationers by sharing intelligence information. Police officers on patrol could serve as additional eyes on the street and alert probation officers of technical violations or suspected criminal behavior. Likewise, the probation officers could share intelligence with law enforcement on such matters as gang involvement and potential social gang networks. As mentioned previously, when police officers know who the probationers are in their community, they not only can act more expeditiously but they are also forewarned of potential danger.

Specifically, in Operation Night Light probation officers were teamed up with police officers, and the probation officer would select 10 to 15 of their most high-risk, gang-affiliated youths or young adults on supervision. Using unmarked cruisers and wearing plainclothes the team would make an unannounced visit to the probationer’s home, school, or workplace while patrolling through hotspot neighborhoods. Visits were often scheduled at non-traditional hours when street activity was believed to be at its highest (often 7:00 p.m. or later). In most states probation officers have unrestricted rights to search for contraband and to make unannounced visits. The presence of law enforcement on these visits served multiple roles including as an added deterrence to youth, familiarization of law enforcement with gang-affiliated youth, encouragement for probationer/parolee pro-social behavior change, and general officer safety. With additional information sharing, police officers could continue to function as additional eyes for probation during their standard patrols. Similar partnerships exist in Minneapolis, Minnesota; New Haven, Connecticut; Redmond, Washington; and Phoenix, Arizona.

Though rigorous evaluation remains lacking on police-probation/parole partnerships, some research has noted the Operation Night Light program’s 5,000 contacts with gang-affiliated probationers in the community as a notable accomplishment. Further, though crimes were declining across the country, declining crime rates were also observed during the mid-1990s after the Night Light program had begun: there were 93 homicides in 1993 as compared to 39 in 1997. In addition, the rate of curfew compliance of youth doubled to 70 percent from 1990 to 1997. Recent data show youth arrests declined from 971 in 2006 to 718 in 2007.14 Unfortunately, it is unclear to what effect the Night Light program has specifically had on such rates. Anecdotal accounts from various individuals involved in the program have reported it has had a substantial impact on gang members by demonstrating that the justice system in Boston is serious about probation supervision. In addition, police and probation officers have allegedly developed a greater sense of respect for each other as a result of the partnership.

That is not to say such partnerships do not have their issues. Some of the most notable concerns include jurisdictional boundaries, mission distortion, organizational lag, the “stalking horse,” and an overreliance on suppression and deterrence. Though probation/parole exist as separate entities across states, and sometimes within states at the county level, law enforcement is often comprised of several agencies at the federal, state, county, and local level that may possess jurisdiction within a given locale. In addition specific units of an agency may focus only on a specific type of crime pattern (for example, a gang task force). This means partnering with local law enforcement can include more than the city police, but also a host of related agencies. Coordinating partnerships with several law enforcement agencies, each with a unique working culture, can complicate partnership efforts.15

Mission distortion is most often a concern for community corrections agencies when participating in partnerships with law enforcement. Mission distortion occurs when the mission orientation of a partner agency begins to drift away from the agency’s intended mission toward that of the organization being partnered with. The police role as “crime fighter” can clash with a community corrections agency’s role of monitoring behavior and offering assistance that is designed to change behavior. Probation and parole officers perform a complicated mix of complementary, yet in some ways conflicting, tasks aimed at maintaining probationer/parolee compliance with supervision conditions while simultaneously encouraging pro-social behavior change that will instill long-term criminal desistance. The fear is that, as a result of partnership with law enforcement, community corrections agencies may abandon the role of treatment and rehabilitation in favor of pure enforcement.

Another concern to partnerships is the concept of organizational lag. In order for partnerships to thrive they must shed obsolete and ineffective bureaucratic customs that stifle innovation. It is necessary for agencies to think outside of the box when it comes to arranging partnerships. These arrangements may include how work is assigned (for example, geographically assigned caseloads for probation as opposed to traditional caseload assignment) and the times in which probation officers work (for example, in Night Light, probation officers worked a late evening-night shift as opposed to the traditional 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. shift).

Finally, “stalking horse” is a term coined for when police officers essentially use community supervision as a way to get into a probationer or a parolee’s residence without having to obtain a search warrant; essentially bypassing any Fourth Amendment privileges probationers or parolees may have had outside their community supervision conditions. There is potential for an imbalance of power in police-probation/parole partnerships. Though police officers may accompany probation officers in the field, there is often a question as to whether the probation officer actually has full control over the actions of police officers during a probationer/parolee home visit, which may compromise the authority of probation officers.

That said, partnerships can be traced back to the ability of individuals to develop and maintain working relationships across agency boundaries. Though partnerships can be encouraged through policies and procedures, the people who work within the agencies and their appreciation for the roles of the partner agency in the larger justice community determine the success of a given partnership. The potential benefits of police-probation/parole partnerships can be vast and far reaching for the agencies involved, the community, and the probationer/parolee. The combination of community supervision and community-oriented policing is a match that needs to occur. Of utmost importance, the partnership has the potential to enhance public safety by suppressing criminality, addressing neighborhood problems, increasing interagency information sharing, and assisting reentry.

The APPA C.A.R.E. Model

To assist the justice field the APPA developed the C.A.R.E. model consisting of four primary components: (1) collaboration, (2) analysis, (3) reentry, and (4) evaluation.16 The C.A.R.E. model supports the U.S. Department of Justice’s and Bureau of Justice Assistance’s anti-gang initiative Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). In addition, the C.A.R.E. model serves as an extension of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP) Comprehensive Gang Model.17 The C.A.R.E. model encourages agencies to approach community crime problems by first collaborating with justice and community agencies, thoroughly analyzing the problem in question, developing appropriate reentry programs (in addition to prevention and suppression), and evaluating the results of these programs.

Collaboration. Though police-probation/parole partnerships represent one promising partnership endeavor, collaboration should involve many agencies and extend past the justice system to community and faith-based organizations. Whereas law enforcement, in conjunction with community corrections, may provide an opportunity for enhanced supervision in the community, prosecutors and the judicial system must provide and support sanctions for probationer/parolee-noncompliance. The Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program, for example, has demonstrated that swift response to noncompliance through graduated sanctions (progressively increasing jail time) can have positive results (an 80 percent reduction in failure to report, 86 percent reduction in drug use, and 50 percent reduction in recidivism).18 Civil gang injunctions are another tool, first used in Los Angeles, which involve the prohibition of the presence and association of gang-related activities (that is, targeting locations as opposed to individuals).19 Finally, automated information sharing through agency record or case management systems can further promote collaboration by providing timely intelligence across agency boundaries (for example, gang affiliation).

Recommendations for Increased Collaboration

  • Diversify funding through a range of grants and local sources to maintain the collaborative
  • Establish a strong network of partner agencies and continue to expand the collaborative
  • Develop a strategic plan to clearly outline the collaborative’s purpose and goals
  • Solidify the collaborative structure and how the collaborative will logistically operate
  • Determine appropriate staffing levels and which agencies will contribute staff to the collaborative
  • Strengthen the commitment of individuals and agencies through active involvement
  • Establish rapport and trust by being reliable and dependable
  • Uphold measureable standards for staff within the collaborative by setting specific responsibilities
  • Support staff and agencies by recognizing their collaborative accomplishments
  • Motivate through effective leadership by supporting innovation and change when needed

Analysis. Often, adequate crime problem analysis is reduced to little less than an educated ‘hunch.’ There is a lack of needed emphasis placed on crime problem identification and analysis. When possible, agencies should rely on both official data and individual perceptions when examining local crime problems. Universities and other research organizations can assist with crime mapping, examination of national data (for example, Uniform Crime Reports), and surveying justice agencies and the community. The end result is a more thorough, less disputable, problem analysis that can guide and justify program development and response.

Recommendations for Community Crime Problem Analysis

  • Develop a subcommittee to conduct community crime problem analysis and pinpoint exact problem areas, as well as community strengths and protective factors
  • Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) should lay out each member’s individual responsibilities
  • Encourage diversity of the subcommittee members across agencies
  • Involve key stakeholders and leaders so they can support the subcommittee
  • Integrate community and faith-based organizations capable of providing housing, education, and employment information and opportunities
  • Incorporate a researcher or research partner agency to assist with complex analyses
  • Corroborate key terms and definitions to reduce ambiguities from agencyspecific jargon
  • Utilize a wide assortment of criminal information sources to obtain an in-depth overview of crime
  • Disseminate findings to the collabora-tive partners and leaders to develop a crime response

Reentry. Though responses to crime and gang behaviors will vary, a comprehensive strategy that includes prevention, suppression, intervention, and reentry will be needed. Law enforcement can work with community corrections to further enhance supervision. That said, services must be provided to probationers/parolees that meets their individual criminogenic needs. Community corrections often operate as a broker that connects probationers/parolees to the appropriate community-based organizations capable of providing continued care. The Boston Reentry Initiative is an example of a comprehensive approach to offender reentry in which multiple justice agencies, and faith-based and community organizations merged efforts to improve the prospects of former gang-involved probationers/parolees.20 Using panel meetings, justice agencies (for example, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and community corrections officers) explained to probationers how they would be held accountable for illegal behavior, and social service and faithbased groups worked with probationers/parolees to improve behavioral outcomes related to desistance.

Recommendations for Reentry and Program Response

  • Incorporate community corrections in prevention and suppression efforts
  • Assess the risks and needs of probationers/parolees using validated instruments
  • Implement, develop, and maintain an individual transition plan for reentry
  • Begin reentry efforts with pre-release planning
  • Engage probationers/parolees in their own success
  • Adopt graduated sanctions for technical violations
  • Incorporate evidence-based practices

Evaluation. While there are several promising programs like the Boston Reentry Initiative, there is often a lack of adequate program evaluation to confirm long-term success. In some cases program administrators and other justice leaders may fear evaluation because, while highlighting strengths, they can expose weaknesses. Nonetheless, evaluation is needed to improve, justify, and replicate programs.21 There are many types of evaluations (for example, evaluability, needs, process, outcome, and cost-benefit) that can be helpful to local agencies. Oftentimes, research organizations may procure their own funding to conduct research, granting the local agency a serious benefit at little cost. Most commonly, the end results of a process and/or outcome evaluation will assist local agencies in determining what components of a program are working, how they’re working, and what components need revision. As a result, a given strategy may need to expand its collaborative network to include more agencies, re-examine the community’s crime problem, and/or reconsider its crime response. Evaluation allows leaders to make informed, calculated decisions on what to change and what to leave alone.

Recommendations for Evaluation

  • Establish a research partner to assist in the evaluation process
  • Evaluate program implementation through process evaluation and program monitoring
  • Evaluate program impact through outcome evaluation
  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the program’s benefits outweigh the costs
  • Evaluate job satisfaction and organizational climate
  • Use evaluation results to improve program practice and revise any ineffective components
  • Disseminate evaluation results through various sources to the public, practitioners, and academics


Street gang violence is a public safety risk. Gang members often have extensive criminal histories and are often well-acquainted with justice systems. Law enforcement and community corrections agencies can leverage these histories and provide a more comprehensive approach to gang-member reentry by coordinating supervision activities and gang-related intelligence. Police-probation/parole partnerships can enhance suppression of future criminal activity while also supporting reentry by expanding collaboration beyond justice agencies to social service, faith-based, and community organizations. These organizations can assist gang-affiliated probationers/parolees in separating themselves from the gang lifestyle through educational assistance, vocational training, and substance abuse treatment. The APPA C.A.R.E. model provides a reiterative framework to address community gang problems through a four-pronged approach:

  • involve multiple justice and community organizations in collaboration,
  • perform scrupulous analysis of the crime problem,
  • match crime and reentry response to the crime problem, and
  • evaluate the project and response strategy.

The C.A.R.E. model, in conjunction with other anti-gang strategies including Project Safe Neighborhoods and BJA’s SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment) model, provides local law enforcement and community corrections agencies with a starting point to address local street gang problems.22 ♦


1National Gang Intelligence Center, 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment (Washington, D.C.: 2011), (accessed July 26, 2012).
2Janice Joseph and Dorothy Taylor, “Native-American Youths and Gangs,” Journal of Gang Research 10, no. 2 (2003): 45-54.
3Anthony A. Braga, “Pulling Levers Focused Deterrence Strategies and Prevention of GunHomicide,” Journal of Criminal Justice 36, no. 4 (2008): 332-343.
4Cathy Bowman, “Enhancing Firearm Interdiction Strategies: Working with Probation and Parole,” Firearms Interdiction Technical Assistance, newsletter (Spring 2005), 6-7.
5Anthony A. Braga, Jack McDevitt, and Glenn L. Pierce, “Understanding and Preventing Gang Violence: Problem Analysis and Response Development in Lowell, Massachusetts,” Police Quarterly 9, no. 1 (2006): 20-46.
6United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001); Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868 (1987); People v. Woods, 21 Cal.4th 668 (1999); Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843 (2006).
7Stanley E. Adelman, “U.S. v. Knights: Supreme Court Rules on Searches of Probationers by Police,” Perspectives 26, no. 3 (2002): 39-43.
8Law enforcement and community corrections agencies should refer to their local laws and regulations for further guidance as some state courts have prohibited the use of probation and parole by police to conduct “stalking horse” searches or in furtherance of enforcement goals without consideration of individual rights and the rehabilitative and public safety goals of probation and parole. Such cases found it unlawful to conduct warrantless searches when it would have been unlawful to search the individual if he or she had not been under probation or parole supervision.
9David E. Olson, Brendan D. Dooley, and Candice M. Kane, “The Relationship between Gang Membership and Inmate Recidivism,” Research Bulletin 2, no. 12, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (May 2004), 4, (accessed July 26, 2012).
10Chantal Di Placido, Terri L. Simon, Treena D. Witte, Deqiang Gu, and Stephen C. P. Wong, “Treatment of Gang Members Can Reduce Recidivism and Institutional Misconduct,” Law and Human Behavior 30, no. 1 (February 2006): 93-114; D. A. Andrews, James Bonta, and R. D. Hoge, “Classification for Effective Rehabilitation: Rediscovering Psychology,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 17, no. 1 (March 1990): 19-52.
11Steve Aos, Polly Phipps, Robert Barnoski, and Roxanne Lieb, The Comparative Costs and Benefits of Programs to Reduce Crime (Olympia, Wash.: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2001), (accessed July 26, 2012).
12Dawn Delfin McDaniel, Reducing Gang Involvement through Employment: A Pilot Intervention (PhD dissertation, University of Southern California, 2010).
13Ronald P. Corbett Jr., “Probation Blue? The Promise (and Perils) of Probation-Police Partnerships,” Corrections Management Quarterly 2, no. 3 (1998): 31-39; Bitna Kim, Jurg Gerber, and Dan Richard Beto, “Listening to Law Enforcement Officers: The Promises and Problems of Police-ProbationPartnerships,” Journal of Criminal Justice 38, no. 4 (2010): 625-632.
14Joanne Katz and Gene Bonham, Effective Alternatives to Incarceration: Police collaborations with Corrections and Communities (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2009), 47, (accessed July 26, 2012); Matthew T. DeMichele and Adam K. Matz, APPA’S C.A.R.E. Model: A Framework for Collaboration, Analysis, Reentry, and Evaluation: A Response to Street Gang Violence (Lexington, Ky.: American Probation and Parole Association/Council of State Governments, 2012), (accessed July 26, 2012).
15Carl Wicklund, “Police and Probation and Parole – A Relationship,” Community Policing Dispatch 3, no. 6 (June 2010), (accessed May 16, 2011).
16Matthew T. DeMichele and Adam K. Matz, APPA’s C.A.R.E. Model: A Framework for Collaboration, Analysis, Reentry, and Evaluation: A Response to Street Gang Violence (Lexington, KY: Council of State Governments, American Probation and Parole Association, 2012), (accessed July 30, 2012); Matthew T. DeMichele and Adam K. Matz, “Responding to Gang Violence: APPA’s C.A.R.E. Model,” Perspectives 34, no. 4 (2010): 34-41, (accessed July 26, 2012); Adam K. Matz, Nathan C. Lowe, Matthew T. DeMichele, and Carl Wicklund, “ Gangs and Guns a Threat to Public Safety: Introducing APPA’s C.A.R.E. Model,” Journal of Community Corrections 20, no. 3 (2011): 9-15, (accessed July 30, 2012).
17Best Practices to Address Community Gang Problems: OJJDP’s Comprehensive Gang Model, by the National Youth Gang Center, for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2010), (accessed July 26, 2012).
18Angela Hawken and Mark Kleiman, Managing Drug Involved Probationers with Swift and Certain Sanctions: Evaluating Hawaii’s HOPE (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 2009), (accessed July 26, 2012).
19Max Shiner, Civil Gang Injunctions: A Guide for Prosecutors (Los Angeles, CA: National District Attorneys Association, 2009), (accessed July 26, 2012).
20Anthony A. Braga, Anne M. Piehl, and David Hureau (2009), “Controlling Violent Offenders Released to the Community: An Evaluation of the Boston Reentry Initiative,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 46, no. 4 (2009): 411-436.
21Earl R. Babbie, The Practice of Social Research (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2007).
22For more information on Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), visit; for more information on BJA’s SARA model, see Bureau of Justice Assistance, Addressing Community Gang Problems: A Model for Problem Solving (1999; repr., Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs), (accessed July 26, 2012).

This project was supported by Grant No. 2009-GP-BX-K045 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART), and the Office for Victims of Crime. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice./td>

Please cite as:

Adam K. Matz et al., "Police-Probation/Parole Partnerships: Responding to Local Street Gang Problems," The Police Chief 79 (October 2012): 24–38.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 10, October 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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