LA training academy to certify gang interventionists

Dec. 16, 2009 | KPCC Wire Services

crice_gThe Los Angeles City Council today approved a one-year, $200,000 contract with the Advancement Project to run the proposed Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy.

The city pays about $26 million a year for gang intervention agencies to mediate ceasefires, and for gang prevention agencies to offer activities meant to lure youth away from gangs.

However, their services are not streamlined, with varying levels of success and little oversight from the city.

“It’s very important for all of us gentlemen to get the education needed to move forward and do this work,” Max Mestes, a gang interventionist, told the council.

“We put ourselves in dangerous situations,” he added.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development will continue to conduct background checks, fingerprinting and mandatory drug testing of would-be gang interventionists.

After that, the Advancement Project — co-founded by prominent civil rights activist and lawyer Connie Rice — will train and certify them.

“Today, we have become leaders in the issue of gang prevention, intervention and reentry,” said Councilman Tony Cardenas, who chaired the City Council’s now-defunct Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development.

“Without question, interventionists are more involved today than ever before, not only in the practical work in the streets, but in the policy-making going on in this building,” Cardenas said.

“Intervention has come so far,” said Ben Owens of the Advancement Project. “This is a bittersweet moment.”

Earlier this year, the city terminated a contract with the gang intervention agency Unity T.W.O. for allegedly failing to account for hundreds of millions of dollars in government money.

Last August, the executive director of Homies Unidos was arrested on federal racketeering and conspiracy charges.

Last January, a gang intervention worker once praised as model of reform was charged with robbing a well-known rapper at the Universal City Hilton.

Los Angeles is home to more than 400 gangs with more than 39,000 documented members.

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