Spike in gang murders prods L.A. toward action
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The City Council in 2005 ordered the multiyear study by the Advancement Project – a national group that seeks to build multiracial democracy – with the intent of implementing it in phases after researching and testing new ideas.Skip to next paragraph
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"Over the past three decades the city has spent $50 billion on the problem and now has six times as many gangs and twice the number of gang members," says Rice. The study concludes: "The city needs nothing less than a Marshall Plan to end gang violence."
This means new ideas for job and community development, child development, and education and public health initiatives.
Officials say the broader view is needed to keep the metropolis from reaching a point in which violence spills into affluent and safer communities.
"The proliferation of gangs and their increased violence threatens to undo all that we have achieved in crime reduction all over the city," says Anthony Pacheco, one of a five-member Board of Police Commissioners.
Through the years, studies have attempted to fix L.A.'s image as the "capital of gangs," but no approach has been as comprehensive, according to the lead gang-liaison for the mayor's office.
"What is different now is that everyone realizes for the first time that enforcement is only a short-term fix," says Jorja Leap, a social welfare professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied L.A. gangs for 20 years. She says some recommendations from prior offensives were not implemented due to lack of political will and public attention. That seems to have changed.
"The stars are aligned with everyone on the same page ... a committed police chief, a new mayor, a city council that is truly interested and a community that has had enough," she says. So far, $22 million annually is spread mainly between two programs, one for school-based prevention and the other for community development.
Lack of coordination made the 23 separate antigang programs ineffective even though L.A. was spending $82 million per year on them. The report suggests a single "gang czar" who can "transcend the drag of torpid bureaucracies."
Researchers looked at what has worked in other gang capitals – Chicago, New York, and Alameda County, Calif. – but concluded that Los Angeles is unique in its geography, structure, history, and culture of gangs.
Instead, researchers point out a community model that had been tried in L.A., which they want to emulate. For nine weeks during the summer of 2003, local basketball courts stayed open past midnight for games. Community groups offered computer games and tutoring from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. – the hours when most violence occurs. Gang intervention workers negotiated with local gangs for no-violence agreements, while a local radio station provided coverage of progress.
"At the end of 14 weeks there was a clear record ... not one shooting or killing or battery or assault," recalls Rice.
Just this week, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and City Councilman Tony Cardenas announced a county-city initiative for five new parole officers to deal with gang problems in the San Fernando Valley, home to about 1.2 million. The region saw a 42 percent rise in gang violence in 2006. The city council has already committed to 1,000 more police officers over the next five years, increasing the ratio of 1 officer for every 445 residents, less than half the rate in New York.
Some observers worry that momentum for change could stall. The mayor and police chief "will pay lip service to Rice's recommendations, but you won't see a concerted effort ...to seek out the massive resources needed to implement the social service, jobs, and education approach to curbing gang violence," predicts Hutchinson.
For Lovett, the added force is welcome, but only part of the picture. "We need to come together as a community to get to the root of the problem between races here. This has been going on for years, and I've never faced it until it happened to me."