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L.A. to sever ties with prominent gang-intervention agency

The city has decided not to renew Unity T.W.O.'s contract and is in the process of signing new contracts with other agencies totaling $20 million a year.

July 16, 2009|Scott Gold

Los Angeles City Hall officials are preparing to sever ties with one of the more high-profile gang intervention organizations in South L.A., a decision the agency head decried as "an injustice" -- even dangerous because of the agency's success in reducing violence between rival gangs.

The city's Gang Reduction & Youth Development office plans to end its contract with Unity T.W.O. Inc. at the end of the month.

"We're one of the premier gang intervention agencies," said Kevin Mustafa Fletcher, Unity T.W.O.'s 39-year-old founder and executive director. "To get treated like we're being treated, without any explanation, is not right. . . . I'm just doing my job."

The agency had a six-month, $250,000 contract to provide intervention services in an impoverished and gang-ridden area straddling Slauson Avenue, and was a subcontractor providing additional intervention services elsewhere in South L.A.

By Oct. 1, the gang reduction office is expected to finish signing new contracts with intervention and prevention agencies worth more than $20 million a year; the decision not to renew Unity's contract was made as part of those deliberations.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's spokesman, Matt Szabo, said that terminating the contract was determined to be "in the best interest of the city," but under orders from the city attorney, he was unable to elaborate.

In documents Unity T.W.O. distributed in recent days to city officials, and shared with The Times on Wednesday, the agency had been accused of filing incident reports late and city officials had reported "dissatisfaction" with Fletcher's scheduling of a sexual harassment training seminar.

In appealing for city officials to reconsider the decision, the agency listed a litany of successes, including playing a leading role in negotiating nine agreements between rival gangs since 2004.

According to Fletcher, a former member of the Swan gang sets, Unity T.W.O. is the only intervention agency accepted by gangs in the area.

The dispute represents a hitch in the city's effort to consolidate and retool its gang intervention and prevention programs, which are now viewed, even by once-wary police commanders, as an essential accompaniment to traditional law enforcement suppression tactics. For example, intervention workers are seen as critical in blocking cycles of retaliation shootings, which are often conducted based on gossip and bad information on the streets, police said.

City officials and civic leaders have launched an unusual effort to professionalize the ranks of gang intervention workers, most of whom are former gang members -- and now face the difficult task of working with both gangs and police, and maintaining credibility in both camps. That means holding intervention workers to new standards in ethics and demeanor.

Unity T.W.O. executives plan to hold a news conference today decrying the decision and appealing for public support.

The "T.W.O." in the agency's name stands for "Together We're One." The agency was founded in 1998, spinning off of Unity One, an intervention agency founded after the 1992 Los Angeles riots by the late Darren "Bo" Taylor, a former gang member who became a well-known peacekeeper in the city's inner core.

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scott.gold@latimes.com

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