State Sen. Tom Hayden and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Monday announced a pioneering gang intervention program that could help at-risk youths get their names removed from the state's controversial database of more than 250,000 reputed gang members and associates.
Baca also revealed that he will start alerting suspected gang members that they are being added to the list so that they can take steps to stay off.
State officials said it is the first time a local authority has decided to offer such a warning to suspects. In the past, they said, officers have not been required to make such a notification.
The practice of assembling names for the CAL/GANG list has been criticized by civil libertarians, who question its reliability. In some instances, people with no arrest records have been included.
At an afternoon news conference at Cal State Los Angeles, the new gang intervention program was praised as a promising way to persuade suspected gang members to become useful members of society.
"Everyone deserves a second chance," said Jesus Delgadillo, a Cal State L.A. graduate who completed the gang intervention program administered by the university's Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute. Before his involvement in the program, he admitted, he could have been added to the state list because he did hang out with known gang members.
Under the program, funded by $300,000 in state funds provided under a measure written by Hayden, a Los Angeles Democrat, reputed gang members must successfully complete a 26-week program of workshops ranging from the impact of gang violence on communities to parenting skills and domestic violence.
After the workshops are completed, Baca said, participants' names will be deleted from the state database.
In addition, Cal State Los Angeles officials said, these workshop graduates may apply to enter school to earn a bachelor's degree.
More than 100 purported gang members have entered the college's gang intervention program in the past six years.
Gilbert Sanchez, the director of the Gang Violence Bridging Project, expects the number of enrollees to double at the prospect of getting one's name deleted from the database.
While Hayden called the program promising, Baca made clear his view that the program's terms wouldn't be easily met. He also challenged suggestions by civil libertarians, who said innocent people might be included in the state's list or that it is impossible to get one's name removed.
"There's an automatic review every year and some names are automatically removed [if the person stays out of trouble for five years]," Baca said. "Also, there is criteria that must be met [such as professing to be a gang member or associating with known gang members] before a person is added."
Hayden, for his part, said he believed there were instances when ill-equipped Los Angeles police officers may have collected names that should not have been included.
Hayden disagreed with the sheriff's explanation that such people could have their names removed. "As a practical matter, no," said Hayden.
Some civil libertarians who had criticized the state list welcomed the program announced by Hayden and Baca.
"I think it's a step in the right direction," said ACLU staff attorney Dan Tokaji.