LOS ANGELES – (FinalCall.com) – Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently announced his office will oversee all of the city’s gang intervention programs in a comprehensive reorganization plan that also targets youth development. Some hardcore gang interventionists worry that the 18-month effort will leave some vital groups and the communities they serve out in the cold.
During his April 14 State of the City address, Mayor Villaraigosa said that he intends to hire 1,000 more police officers by the year 2010; strengthen oversight, accountability and performance measures of anti-gang programs; and put $1.5 million into prevention and intervention programs in the city’s most violent neighborhoods, dubbed the Gang Reduction and Youth Development Zones, or Gang Reduction Zones. He also plans to provide services and support to victims and survivors of gang violence through a Gang Crisis Response team.
Under the plan, the Gang Reduction Zones will expand from 8 to 12 locations and receive a nearly 70 percent increase in general funds. Currently, the city’s gang intervention and prevention programs spend about $19 million a year.
For years, the programs operated under the Community Development Department, but many admit that accountability and oversight was lacking.
Gang interventionists say there have been more successes than failures in their peacekeeping efforts, but admit several recent problems, including embezzlement by a member of one intervention organization and a weapons arrest for another have undergirded the push to take control of anti-gang programs.
Rev. Jeff Carr, director of gang reduction and youth development for the mayor’s office, will coordinate all of intervention and prevention programs and provide a link to suppression. He said a multi-prong approach should include targeted enforcement of the small percentage of gang members actually committing crimes.
“The only way you’re going to make a dent in this problem long term is to do two things: prevent young people from actually joining gangs, by cutting off the supply of young people who see gang members as their only alternatives and intervene in the lives of gang members who are not part of that five to 10 percent and actually invest the kind of resources and interventions to help them exit the gangs if that’s what they want to do,” he said.
The push for oversight of the programs by the mayor’s office came from City Comptroller Laura Chick. In February, she released her blueprint for ending gang violence, which called for the redesign, refocus and merging of existing programs to achieve greater results.
The blueprint was one of many gang initiatives and proposals presented by city officials and law enforcement after Atty. Connie Rice and the Advancement Project presented a comprehensive, wrap-around gang reduction strategy.
Last year, the Advancement Project was handpicked by the city council to develop a citywide Gang Activity Reduction Strategy. The strategists proposed a $100 million, three-phase project to stabilize gang war zones and end the crisis.
It studied funding sources, social programs, and the roles of schools, youth authority camps, the state and county, and civic groups, and found that law enforcement suppression should be a last resort to gang violence. Comprehensive services with school, church, community, law enforcement, city and state departments and other components, such as after-school reading, homework and recreational programs to protect youth would work, the Advancement Project said.
Critics of the mayor’s consolidation plan say basing changes on police gang crime statistics means some high crime areas that have experienced success with anti-violence will fall outside of gang reduction zones. This includes gang intervention and prevention efforts in Venice in western Los Angeles, and San Pedro in southwest of Los Angeles. Programs in these areas were funded through L.A. Bridges, an anti-gang coalition which received city funds. L.A. Bridges will be dismantled under the new plan.
Both areas have experienced high gang activity, but overcame the violence through years of hardcore intervention work, said Stan Muhammad, executive director of Venice 2000, a gang intervention group that received funding through L.A. Bridges.
“My question for the mayor would be after they’ve suppressed a certain area with this strategy what’s next? It seems like the same strategy for gang injunctions, which suppress the young people in that area and allow others to continue with their madness in another part of the city,” Mr. Muhammad said.
He added, “It’s not the best strategy in my eyes because it’s only identifying certain parts of the city, and the areas that have been maintaining a level of peace, like Venice, have not been identified as gang reduction zones. And if the mayor’s office has determined that gang crime in our 11th District is down, then why was the FBI, DEA, ATF and LAPD there busting down doors looking for gang members about a month or so ago?”
Gang interventionists argue it is good that some neighborhoods are not gang reduction zones, but that does not mean the areas should lack attention and funding.
While the city sorts out funding and suppression, the interventionists vow to pursue more self-reliance.
Some believe the mayor’s team’s ability to manage the multiple programs is a plus, but say it disadvantages neighborhoods by taking funding from some and giving it to others.
“Essentially, intervention agencies out there now have to at some point become self reliant and look at some private funds. If we rely on the city and they snatch the carpet from under us at any time, they pretty much hold our fate. The mayor’s program is about 85 percent prevention (mentoring children between 10-15 years old) and suppression and 15 percent for intervention (working with hardcore gang members 15 years old and up).
“Removing that funding ties their hands,” said Pastor Benny Owens, who leads Detours, a L.A.-based gang intervention effort.