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L.A. County to launch scaled-down effort to combat gang violence

The 15-month pilot program will target 100 youths under the custody of the Probation Department. It will attempt to prevent them from sliding into gangs once they return home.

April 12, 2010|By Rong-Gong Lin II

A long-delayed Los Angeles County effort to combat gang violence is set to begin in May, officials said.

The $1.1-million initiative is much smaller than what was initially envisioned in 2007 -- a Marshall Plan-style effort to tackle Southern California's persistent gang problems through a multi-agency approach, focusing not only on law enforcement, but also child development, job creation, education and public health programs in areas dominated by gangs.

In its place is a limited, 15-month pilot program targeting 100 youths under the custody of the county's troubled Probation Department. The program was approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The Regional Gang Violence Reduction Initiative calls for programs to be set up in four neighborhoods -- the Florence-Firestone and Harbor Gateway neighborhoods in the South Los Angeles area, Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley and the Monrovia-Duarte area in the San Gabriel Valley.

Each program is to serve 25 youths who are in probation camps and will attempt to prevent them from sliding into gangs once they return home, said Vincent Holmes, a principal analyst for county Chief Executive William T Fujioka.

The effort is to be headed by Probation Department employees, but also will include other departments, such as social services.

Each team will assist probationers and their family with issues including finding work, obtaining additional aid such as cash and food stamps, and making sure that mental health medications are being taken, Holmes said.

The program also calls for more programs for youths at parks and libraries, such as basketball games, arts and crafts classes, poetry festivals and theater troupes, Holmes said.

The goal is to keep each youth monitored for at least six months, Holmes said. County officials said they hope to learn from these programs as a way to bring systemic change to how the county handles probationers and their families.

The county's effort was sparked after the public policy group Advancement Project issued a major report in January 2007 that called for a massive, coordinated regional effort to fight gangs and spurred a rethinking of both city and county efforts.

But Connie Rice, co- director of the Advancement Project, said the county's effort doesn't come close to what was recommended in 2007.

"This is 100 kids," Rice said. "This is not comprehensive."

Rice faulted in particular the county's reliance on the Probation Department to lead the issue.

The Probation Department has long been troubled.

In March, officials admitted that at least 170 of its employees committed misconduct, including cases of excessive force and abuse, but so far have escaped punishment because there isn't enough staff to discipline them.

"Probation is a disaster at this point," Rice said. "Probation is run so badly, gangs recruit inside the juvenile camps."

Rice said that some county leaders understand what needs to be done but that "there is no mandate to move to the comprehensive level."

In contrast, after the 2007 report, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa created the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development and appointed a gang czar, focused on reducing gangs' influence in neighborhoods. Its budget for the current fiscal year is $18 million.

"L.A. city has the right thinking about the program," Rice said.

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