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African American leaders fear gang initiative is stalled

Advocates press L.A. officials to implement anti-crime strategies touted in a recent study.

February 22, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

More than a month after a city consultant called for a comprehensive new strategy on street gangs in Los Angeles, a group of African American community leaders said Wednesday they were worried that the recommendations appeared to be stalled at City Hall so they would step up pressure for action.

Those voicing concerns include the Revs. Clyde Oden and Cecil "Chip" Murray, political consultant Kerman Maddox and other members of the African American Summit on Violence Prevention.

"I am greatly concerned that City Hall has conducted business as usual, and everything points to the need for major change," said Oden, who has urged the 800 members of his Bryant Temple AME Church to write letters to City Hall seeking swift action.

Maddox said people were concerned that the report by the Advancement Project of Los Angeles would end up collecting dust on a shelf.

"Kids are getting shot," he said. "There has been no movement on the report."

Murray also said he wanted city officials to act with a greater sense of urgency on the matter.

The report, released Jan. 12, was commissioned by the City Council and warned that the city would see gang violence spread unless it adopted a Marshall Plan-like initiative to provide young people with jobs and other alternatives to joining gangs.

The report proposed 100 recommendations, including creation of a Department of Neighborhood Safety to be headed by a gang czar who would coordinate the large number of gang prevention and intervention programs scattered throughout city government.

Connie Rice, director of the Advancement Project of Los Angeles, said she felt the recommendations were not being dealt with swiftly enough for a city where there were 272 gang-related murders last year.

"People are not happy with the level of response," Rice said.

She said large numbers of city officials acted quickly in the last week to approve a public subsidy plan for the Grand Avenue development and to seek funding in Sacramento for widening the 405 Freeway.

"I know what the city does when it has a unanimous strong mandate on a project. We saw it on the 405 project," Rice said. "Is that what you see on this gang issue? I'm still waiting."

None of the elected officials who agreed to pay $593,000 for the Advancement Project study has endorsed its key specific recommendations.

Indeed, Councilwoman Janice Hahn said at the last meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development that she opposed creation of a new department.

Councilman Tony Cardenas, chairman of the committee reviewing the Rice report, said Wednesday that he supported making current gang programs better coordinated and more accountable to a person or department, but he is still not sure what form that should take.

He urged patience.

"We're a legislative body. Call it making sausage. It's not pretty," Cardenas said. "It might take longer than people want, but with all due respect, I want to do it right."

The criticism came on the same day that City Controller Laura Chick announced a proposal to hire an outside firm to evaluate the performance of existing programs to see how they can do better.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who announced a gang enforcement campaign earlier this month, plans to announce his proposals on the Rice report within the next two months, officials said.

"The mayor is committed to providing not only suppression [by police] but also coordinated and enhanced prevention and intervention programs which start with better public education and more job opportunities," said Matt Szabo, a spokesman for the mayor.

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