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Trouble with a South L.A. gang-intervention agency

Unity T.W.O., a high-profile City Hall contractor, was supposed to be a central player in L.A.'s gang-reduction efforts. But documents portray a troubled, overwhelmed agency.

August 02, 2009|Scott Gold

City officials were aware of Unity T.W.O.'s troubles, according to the documents. Still, last spring, after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa consolidated gang-prevention programs and boosted funding for gang intervention and prevention, the city gave Unity T.W.O. a $250,000 contract to oversee intervention in a troubled pocket of the city bisected by Slauson and Van Ness avenues. Unity T.W.O. was also named the lead intervention subcontractor in the LAPD's Newton Division, where Valencia was killed.

Unity T.W.O.'s problems continued under the new contracts. According to the documents, the agency often failed to file required incident reports outlining its intervention efforts. Unity T.W.O. staff members missed appointments to get fingerprinted by city officials and to provide information for background checks.

In May, two staff members in the mayor's Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD) submitted sexual harassment claims against Unity T.W.O. employees -- "unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate remarks and continued harassment even after our staff asked them to stop," according to one document. Unity T.W.O. workers were ordered to stay away from GRYD's female staffers.

By June, executives at Soledad Enrichment Action, which hired Unity T.W.O. as a subcontractor in the Newton area, were having difficulty even making contact with Fletcher and other Unity T.W.O. workers and resorted to sending a letter asserting that "we have no record that substantiates that any services have been or are being provided by your agency." City officials also were raising questions about Unity T.W.O.'s decision to "delegate" responsibilities to yet another intervention organization.

"OK. What exactly does he do then?" e-mailed the Rev. Jeff Carr, GRYD's director, referring to Fletcher. "Still don't know," replied Jorge Reyes, a GRYD supervisor.

Fletcher seemed stymied by the bureaucracy's confusing demands.

"We want to comply. We will happily comply. But please help us do so," he wrote to Carr and Villaraigosa on June 26.

But the city already was taking steps toward ending its relationship with Unity T.W.O. -- even as some officials fretted in e-mails that the decision could have "repercussions" for truces between rival gangs, particularly the Swans and the East Coast Crips. The city finally ended its contract with Unity T.W.O. on Friday. (The city cannot unilaterally block the agency from working as a subcontractor in Newton; the fate of Unity T.W.O.'s work there remains uncertain.)

Other high-profile gang-intervention workers seem torn over Unity T.W.O.

"There has to be rules. If there aren't rules, people will abuse this thing, and I think the city is making an honest effort to do something to stem the violence," said Ted Baker, a case manager with a group that works closely with Unity T.W.O. in South L.A. "But you still have to have real contacts on the street level. There is no other way to break that cycle. I just don't know. The politics here run pretty deep."



About this series

This is the latest in a series of articles and photographs examining the promise and peril of South Los Angeles. The series looks at the public safety issues that have long consumed the area, as well as the rapid change occurring there: evolving demographics, inventive social programs and new developments that hold great potential in one of the city's most troubled communities.


Online, browse the archives of this project, view photo essays and multimedia presentations or leave your thoughts about this article and South L.A.

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