The nation's top law enforcement official awarded Los Angeles $2.5 million Friday to combat gang violence in the city's southeast corner, an area that contains three public housing projects notorious for their gang activity.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales and federal prosecutors said the money would pay for gang prevention programs as well as stepped-up prosecutions in a section of South Los Angeles that includes the Imperial Courts, Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs housing projects.
"There is no future in being a member of a gang," said Gonzales, who made the announcement during a national gang summit attended by mayors from around the country. "Gangs are shattering the hopes of young people who succumb to their false promises."
The initiative comes at a time when the federal government has invested heavily in homeland security programs, which some critics say have shortchanged traditional anti-crime efforts.
Though city and state officials applauded the money, privately some grumbled about the relatively small amount and pointed out that it comes as the federal government is slashing other crime-fighting funds.
Los Angeles is home to 463 gangs -- up from 300 in 1990, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The city has an estimated 40,000 gang members.
Some of the deadliest episodes of gang violence have occurred at the housing projects targeted by the new federal program.
Police, for example, reported 19 gang-related shootings and seven homicides around the Jordan Downs project from Dec. 31 to Jan. 31.
LAPD officials and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a program this week to install a dozen cameras at Jordan Downs that will feed live images around the clock to patrol cars, allowing units to respond to crimes more quickly.
The Los Angeles mayor said he hoped the new crime-fighting dollars would bring more calm to housing projects where unemployment is rampant and residents say they must protect their children from bullets whizzing through the walls of their apartments.
"We believe there is a way to reduce gang and gun violence in America," said Villaraigosa, who planned the gang summit and announced the new money during an appearance with Gonzales. "This city and cities across the nation need to grapple with this issue."
The Department of Justice awarded five grants of the same amount to Cleveland; Milwaukee; Tampa, Fla.; the Dallas-Fort Worth area; and a corridor stretching from Easton to Lancaster, Pa., near Philadelphia.
In each city, $1 million in federal funds is earmarked for prevention -- addressing personal, family and community factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency.
Another $1 million would be devoted to law enforcement efforts targeting violent gang members "who terrorize our communities," the Department of Justice said in a statement.
The final $500,000 will be used to provide transitional housing, job placement help, and substance abuse and mental health treatment for released convicts.
During the gang meeting, held in a ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel downtown, mayors and police chiefs talked about ways to end gang violence.
They discussed curfews and expanded recreation programs, among other efforts. One group of speakers debated the usefulness of more prosecutions versus the need to address underlying causes of gang activity.
Police and federal prosecutors touted injunctions and federal racketeering laws to crack down on criminal gang activity, while one civil rights lawyer said the answer lies in creating more jobs and stabilizing impoverished families.
"This isn't a law enforcement problem," said attorney Constance L. Rice, a panelist.
"This is a broken children problem. This is a broken cities problem."