Anti-gang overhaul has far to go

By Rick Orlov and Brandon Lowrey, Daily News Staff Writers
Updated: 02/27/2009 12:51:48 AM PST

A year after she recommended the city overhaul its anti-gang programs, City Controller Laura Chick said Thursday the Mayor’s Office still has more work to do to improve its evaluation and coordination of the efforts.

Even as Chick acknowledged it was early to assess the consolidation of programs under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, she said she wanted her office involved in that review.

“The mayor has moved to build a framework,” Chick said. “But it is just a framework. We have yet to see the house built.”

Chick’s report issued one year ago prompted a review of gang prevention and intervention programs and a transfer of responsibility to Villaraigosa’s office.

A spokesman for the mayor responded sharply to many of Chick’s latest criticisms, noting Villaraigosa and his staff had been in charge of the programs only since July and were following most of her prior recommendations.

“We have implemented 113 of her 122 recommendations,” mayoral spokesman Matt Szabo said. “That’s a 93 percent success rate.”

Los Angeles County is home to some 1,145 gangs and 80,000 gang members, including 84 gangs and more than 14,600 members in the San Fernando Valley, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

But while the region has always been considered one of the nation’s epicenters of gang activity, police have reduced gang crime in recent years.

Gang-related crime has dropped by 11 percent citywide since 2007, and the LAPD is seeking a 20 percent drop this year.

Chick said she was pleased with how quickly the change occurred, but she still has questions about other programs that deal with gangs.

“We have programs in the Community Development Department, Recreation and Parks and others that continue to operate,” Chick said. “They need to be coordinated with the mayor’s gang program.”

Examples she cited include the CDD’s $19 million Family Services program and the night basketball Gangster Crip Willie James, Flash,talks to LAPD South East Division Gang Enforcement officer Mel Hernandez. Many gang members sport tattoos to identify which gang a member belongs to. (Hans Gutknecht/LA Daily News)program operated by Recreation and Parks.

Szabo said the Mayor’s Office would look at the issue but noted most of the anti-gang programs from CDD had been transferred to the Mayor’s Office, where gang czar Jeff Carr has developed a Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, taking over programs once operated by Bridges I and Bridges II.

Many complaints involving the Bridges programs have focused on lack of training or other problems with some workers. There have been accusations of misappropriation of funds.

Chick said it will take some time to determine the effectiveness of the city efforts and called for speedy hiring of an evaluator.

Also on Thursday, city officials announced the launch of a new after-school program to help keep kids out of gangs.

Instead of learning how to get in trouble on the streets, some students at Maclay Middle School will learn new skills.

“English, jewelry designing, architecture, … new hope,” said school Principal Veronica Arroquin, shortly after the announcement. “How do you say `thank you’ to that?”

The Maclay program, the only one in the San Fernando Valley, is a joint venture between the City Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Four schools in other troubled areas of the city will have similar programs.

Maclay has received a new computer lab to accommodate a Junior I’m a Student Exploring Excellence program, to be called Jr. iSEE, in a building mostly unused since the end of an industrial program it housed. The new program will run from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays. All students will be able to use the lab during school hours.

Experts have said middle school kids are at a pivotal age. If they can avoid gang involvement until age 15 or so, odds are they never will become involved.

Maclay, which sits in an area covered by a permanent injunction against the San Fers street gang, has been one of the most-targeted schools in the Valley.

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