Senior Social Science Analyst
National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice
Dr. Phelan Wyrick’s work in gang reduction has recently received the prestigious Attorney General’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Community Partnerships for Public Safety. The program he helped to develop and implement (in response to an effort by the U.S. Attorney General in 2005) has a preventative focus. In particular, Dr. Wyrick’s work examines how multiple prevention methods can work together, as well as focusing on interventions for those already involved in gangs.
Dr. Wyrick’s work for the Attorney General’s Anti-Gang Initiative stemmed from his earlier work implementing and developing community-based anti-gang programs for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Gang Reduction Program. This program was piloted in four small target areas in cities across the country: Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Richmond, and North Miami Beach. While working with this program, Dr. Wyrick worked with communities to provide strategic, individualized assessment of the gang programs in each area, and to provide training within the communities to help supplement prevention methods already in place. This helped communities develop their own plan to cultivate existing resources and confront the problem of gang violence.
In Los Angeles it was soon evident that this pilot program was having better results than other efforts had in Los Angeles in over a decade. In 2003, Los Angeles experienced a 44 percent reduction in gang crime in the zone where this model was demonstrated, inspiring the mayor to expand the model to 8 more zones around the city and allocate $168 million to the effort. More recently, the Department of Justice has also decided to use this framework for implementing programs in 10 cities across the country. Dr. Wyrick’s Attorney General Award reflects the high recognition this program has received. His work with the online sharing of information regarding gang prevention and intervention also led to his designation as co-chair of the Helping America’s Youth interagency group, at the invitation of the Office of the First Lady.
Phelan Wyrick’s work has had an impact beyond America’s borders, as well. He has been invited to conduct gang prevention training in El Salvador at one of the five International Law Enforcement Academies. This training (done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State and Department of Justice) brought together 55 individuals with careers in law enforcement from Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama. Dr. Wyrick presented research on why people join gangs and what communities and law enforcement officials can do to in terms of prevention and intervention.
He also discussed how the law enforcement system can work with nongovernmental organizations and community organizations like schools and faith-based institutions as well as dispelling common misconceptions surrounding involvement in gangs. "Gangs are very successful at spreading myths, and one of them is that once you’re in, you can never get out." To illustrate the reality of life after gangs, Dr. Wyrick brought in former gang members to speak with the participants personally. The international training has recently received funding to be continued in 2008.
As for the future of his work, Dr. Wyrick wants to arm communities to be better organized and prepared to support people in the fight against gang violence, not only in the U.S., but internationally as well. As with most things in Washington, politics are involved, and this means that speaking to people with the right influence is key. “I feel I’ve been able to raise the legitimacy of the prevention side of this issue and bring it to the attention of the right people. I hope we’re going to see a lot more people out there taking a serious look at how to implement gang-prevention in a more informed way.” Dr. Wyrick continues to seek new ways to advance gang prevention and reduce gang violence by bringing research and evaluation to policy and practice.