In more than 40 years of studying this city’s street gangs as a social psychologist, Malcolm Klein says his home was burglarized nine times. Now, the retired University of Southern California professor is offering the city what he hopes one day will help stem crime: A test that he says could predict if a child is destined to join a gang.
The multiple-choice screening, some 70 questions long, shows how closely Los Angeles has begun to examine the work of social scientists to tackle complex policy issues like gang violence. Last year, city officials turned to Dr. Klein and his colleagues at USC to design a test that they hope will empirically identify which children are headed toward a life on the street. This year, the test will help decide the direction of the millions of dollars the city spends annually on gang-prevention efforts.
Los Angeles is relying more on data to stop youths from joining gangs.
The screening, intended for children between 10 and 15 years old, asks a range of questions on issues ranging from past relationships to drug use to attitudes toward violence. One question asks test takers if they recently had a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend; another asks test takers if they are kind to younger children.
In order to avoid stigmatizing children with the label of potential criminal, Dr. Klein says test takers aren’t told that the questions are intended to screen for future gang involvement.