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Committee finds mayor's gang office should be made independent

Taking Los Angeles' $20-million gang intervention and prevention programs out of the mayor's auspices would allow for more transparency and City Council oversight, ad hoc panel reports.

November 24, 2009|By Corina Knoll

The city of Los Angeles should create a standalone department of gang prevention and intervention instead of relying on the mayor's office to oversee anti-gang programs as it does now, according to a report released Monday.

FOR THE RECORD: The headline on an earlier version of this article incorrectly said a report had called for Los Angeles' gang-intervention programs to be taken out of the governor's auspices. The report actually said the programs should be taken out of the mayor's auspices.
Citing the need for greater financial oversight and improved collaboration between the city, law enforcement, courts, schools and social service agencies, the report called for a comprehensive change in the way the city addresses the root causes of gang violence. The Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development has been reviewing city gang initiatives for roughly four years.

The committee's recommendation drew a sharp response from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office.

"The graduate students who wrote the report deserve an 'A' for effort, but at a time when we're working to deliver services more efficiently, creating a new government bureaucracy is driving the wrong way on a one-way street," said Matt Szabo, deputy chief of staff to Villaraigosa.

After then-City Controller Laura Chick decried the lack of effectiveness of scattered gang prevention programs, Villaraigosa's office in July 2008 consolidated the programs into the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, which is now in charge of more than $20 million in annual intervention and prevention contracts.

City Councilman Tony Cardenas, who chaired the committee, said transitioning the programs out from the mayor's office would allow performance audits without limitations.

"As a council member, when we want information on a program out of an elected office we only have the ability to request -- we cannot require them to give us information," he said. "You can never have 100% transparency with a program in an elected office."

Cardenas said the move would allow those programs to thrive in the future.

"This particular mayor is very committed to intervention and prevention, but when we have a new mayor nobody knows what that particular mayor's commitment will be," he said.

But the mayor's office has prided itself on its approach to gang reduction, including setting up agencies in 12 neighborhoods identified as violent gang zones. A change in oversight would only bring more political meddling, said Szabo.

"Our books are wide open as it relates to awarding contracts, the standards and criteria by which those applications for contracts are judged and the standards by which the programs are evaluated," he said. "Quite honestly, contracting in the rest of the city should be modeled after" the mayor's anti-gang office.

A review of the programs' placement is scheduled for March 2010.

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