L.A. gang-prevention plan to target youngest

By Brandon Lowrey, Daily News Staff Writer
Updated: 02/25/2009 10:20:34 PM PST

Los Angeles would pump millions of dollars into the training and oversight of anti-gang groups to sway at-risk kids from joining street gangs in violent neighborhoods, the city’s anti-gang czar proposed Wednesday.

The proposed $5 million program would create a training and certification process for city-funded gang intervention workers and require them to meet frequently with kids likely to join a gang – and those kids’ parents.

“Any of our prevention programs working with young people at risk of joining gangs are going to have a significant family component,” said the Rev. Jeff Carr, the city’s anti-gang czar, in his first quarterly report to the City Council on Wednesday.

The creation of the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program would mark the first overhaul of the city’s strategy to combat gangs since the council placed it under the control of the Mayor’s Office last year. The council is set to vote on the proposal next month.

In the proposed program, $3 million would be split evenly among 12 gang-infested zones, going to local, nonprofit gang prevention and intervention groups. Two of the zones would be in the San Fernando Valley, while most of the rest would be in southern and eastern Los Angeles.

An additional $1.2 million would go to organizations outside those defined areas.

And $900,000 would fund a third-party evaluation of the plan’s success.

Two of the 12 proposed zones – in the Panorama City and Pacoima areas – are in the San Fernando Valley.

Both zones would be served by the North Hills-based Communities in Schools, which would receive $500,000 in city and federal funds.

Officials from the organization could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The organization’s executive director, William “Blinky” Rodriguez, has been active in Valley anti-gang efforts since he lost his 16-year-old son to gang violence in 1990. He has played the role of peacekeeper among local gangs by getting gang leaders to sign peace treaties and organizing friendly competitions among rival gangs.

Communities in Schools aims to prevent gang membership and violence, and help at-risk youths in their education and search for employment, according to its Web site.

City Councilman Richard Alarc n praised the organization on Wednesday.

“They are clearly the organization in the San Fernando Valley that has the most experience working directly in intervention work,” he said.

The Valley’s Child and Family Guidance Center will receive $187,500 from the city for work outside of the GRYD zones.

Councilman Tony Cardenas, whose district includes one of the Valley’s zones, said he was pleased with the GRYD plan’s increased focus on preventing kids from joining gangs and intervening before they get arrested.

“I think interventionists are a very underutilized part of the solution,” Cardenas said.

“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” Cardenas added, echoing a remark often uttered often by Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. “There are other legs to the stool.”

The program will replace the Bridges program, which was administered by the Community Development Department until the Mayor’s Office took it over in July.

Carr said the greatest differences between the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program and its predecessor would be in oversight and focus.

Carr has proposed a $900,000 contract with the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research firm, to measure the program’s effectiveness.

The program would focus on more intensive work and more carefully selected kids. In addition, the city would create an ongoing training process to ensure consistency and quality among gang intervention workers.

The workers, many of whom are reformed gang members, would be required to meet at least three times a week with each at-risk youth and at least once a month with their parents. The program would reach an estimated 2,600 kids – twice the number reached by the Bridges program, Carr said.

City Controller Laura Chick will release a report today examining the city’s gang policy since last February, when she released a gang prevention “blueprint” and recommended that gang programs be consolidated under the Mayor’s Office.

City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ray Cortines and Alarc n will also unveil an unrelated program today to launch after-school youth centers at five middle schools in gang-affected areas to keep kids off of the streets.

Carr said that if the program reaches the right kids at the right time – around middle-school – it could go a long way toward transforming even the roughest places.

“I think it’s important for us to remember one simple thing: All across this city, even in the toughest neighborhoods, … 85 percent of the kids who live in those neighborhoods will never join a gang,” Carr said. “They want to grow up safe and healthy. They want a good job. They want a family.

They want a safe place to live.”

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