Community Key to Reducing Youth Gang Violence, Expert Says
James Swift (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange) | October 19, 2012
Community Involvement, Relational Networks Key to Reducing Youth-Related Gang Violence in Los Angeles, says City’s Head of Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office
“Youth in a very diverse environment continue to solve conflicts through violence,” said Guillermo Céspedes, director of the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development for the City of Los Angeles. “We kept doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”
Céspedes was the keynote speaker for Thursday’s “Improving Citizen Security in Central America: Options for Responding to Youth Violence” event at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. He said that gang culture is “embedded in the identity of the city,” with many residents displaying a “certain unconscious pride” about Los Angeles being considered the “gang capital of the world.”
“LA has, documented, roughly 450 gangs within the boundaries of the city and 45,000 documented gang members” he said. “If we include the county, the whole county region, those numbers double.”
Prior to 2007, the City of Los Angeles primarily focused on community-based approaches and youth gang services, Céspedes said. Frequently, he said that law enforcement used “very aggressive” strategies, such as the controversial Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) and Operation Hammer programs to combat gang violence.
“I work very closely with law enforcement, especially with the chief of police,” he said. “If he was here, he would start the conversation, in essence, apologizing, for the fact that we have played some part in exporting this issue to the rest of the world.
In Nov. 2005, the Los Angeles City Council called for the development of a new citywide gang reduction program. The Advancement Project released a final report to the city, called “A Call to Action: A Case for a Comprehensive Solution to LA’s Gang Violence Epidemic,” in Jan. 2007.
Céspedes said that the final report “restructured” and “redefined” how the city approached the issue of gang violence. In Aug. 2007, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa created the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD). Céspedes said he does not think of the GRYD as a “typical municipal government agency.”
He said that GRYD’s approach is to evaluate youth violence and gang issues through a “different lens.” One of the first things Céspedes notes is their definition of “gang-related,” which he considers to entail a “relational” aspect as opposed to a direct law-enforcement connotation.
“‘Gang-related’ means any crime that has retaliation attached to it,” he said. While officials may not be able to stop initial homicides, he believes that law enforcement agencies can prevent “a pile-up of body bags” stemming from retaliatory violence by speaking directly to “stakeholders” following gang-related homicides.
Tags: Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, Gang Reduction and Youth Development, gang reduction zones, Improving Citizen Security in Central America, Operation Hammer, retaliation, youth violence