ATLANTA, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Gang homicides frequently involve teens as victims and are often retaliatory to gang conflict and are less likely to involve drugs, U.S. officials say.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses data from the CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System, which analyzed 2003 to 2008 data from large cities in 17 states.
The analysis found five cities had the highest levels of gang homicides -- Los Angeles; Oklahoma City; Long Beach, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; and Newark, N.J.
"Violence -- including gang homicides -- is a significant public health problem," Linda C. Degutis, director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in a statement. "Investing in early prevention pays off in the long run. It helps youth learn how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence and keeps them connected to their families, schools, and communities and from joining gangs in the first place."
The report found gang homicides often occur in public and involve firearms but are less likely to involve drugs or other crimes than generally believed by the public, Degutis said.
In Los Angeles and Long Beach, less than 5 percent of all homicides were associated with known drug trade or use. In Oakland, 12.5 percent of gang homicides compared with 16.5 percent of non-gang homicides involved drug trade/use; in Oklahoma City, 25.4 percent of gang homicides compared with 22.8 percent of non-gang homicides involved drug trade/use. Newark was the only city with a significantly higher proportion of gang homicides -- 20 percent versus non-gang homicides at 6 percent that involved drug trade/use.
There was a significantly higher proportion of gang homicide victims who were ages 15-19 in all cities; in general, gang homicide victims were younger than non-gang homicide victims. Less than 6 percent victims of gang and non-gang homicides were bystanders, the report said.