Gang Violence

Another strand of my research aims to understand how rationalist frameworks of war and conflict can help us understand variation in gang violence, and improve public policy to avoid destabilizing peaceful equilibria.

Turf war or truce: Gun control and bargaining among criminal gangs

With Sarah Z. Daly.

Bloody turf wars and cycles of violent retribution dominate reports on the relationships among gangs. However, these organized criminal groups also form truces that allow them to peacefully co-exist within their delimited territories. This paper adopts bargaining theory and proposes that gangs escalate violence following shocks to their relative coercive capacity. This uptick in violence proves more likely when the gangs are more factionalized and less rooted in their neighborhoods. Our empirical strategy leverages one particular shock – access to firearms following a Wisconsin gun control repeal – to understand how changes in this coercive input upset the existing balance of power among Chicago’s street gangs and shaped homicidal violence in the urban arena. This paper has implications for scholarship on bargaining and war, organized crime, and arms control.

Uprooting the Gang: Bargaining, Turf War, and Truce among Organized Criminal Groups.

With Sarah Z. Daly. Manuscript in preparation.

When and why do gangs engage in turf war and when do they instead agree to truces? We exploit the timing of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s demolition of Chicago’s entire stock of high-rise public housing to evaluate the effect on gang violence of policies aimed at displacing criminal groups from their home turf. We adopt a rationalist bargaining framework to understand how homicidal equilibria evolve in response to such shocks to the balance of power between gangs. We argue that the demolition’s gradual and foreseeable nature sparked commitment problems between gangs and created opportunities for preventive war. Leveraging original city-block level monthly data over the course of twelve years on public housing, gang territory, and criminal alliances, and novel data on gang-specific killings, we identify the effects of the place-based shock on localized patterns of homicide. Our study has important implications for scholarship on bargaining and war, organized crime, and state law enforcement policies.