LA County may use public health money to hire gang intervention workers

Photo by 8 Kome via Flickr Creative Commons

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday will consider shifting $190,000 from the public health department to parks and rec to hire eight gang intervention workers in South L.A. for the summertime Parks After Dark program.

The intervention workers would initially staff Jesse Owens Community Regional Park and Ted Watkins Memorial Park. They would mediate conflicts, quash rumors and mentor at-risk youth. The money would come from the Department of Public Health's Trauma Prevention Initiative.

Parks After Dark is a "key strategy" to reducing violence in high-crime communities, says Andrea Welsing, director of Public Health's injury and violence prevention program.

"We just feel like it creates a great environment where you can provide services to the community in a non-threatening way and create safe environments so that people can be physically active," she says.

Several studies have found a correlation between the program and decreased crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods, adds Welsing.

The intervention workers would build on the success of the Parks After Dark program and play a critical role in maintaining peace in these communities, says Mika Yamamoto, regional operations manager of the South Community Services Agency for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Many who do this type of work were previously involved with gangs and thus understand gang culture. 

The Parks After Dark program launched seven years ago and is now in 23 parks across the county.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings during the summer, young people and their families can participate in basketball and Zumba and enjoy concerts and movies. The program also offers resource fairs, where people can access health services and legal and economic aid.

Many of the parks in the program are in South L.A., in Athens, Compton, Crenshaw, Florence, Hyde Park, Lynwood, Paramount and Watts. Homicide is the leading cause of death in this part of the county; in 2014, the homicide rate here was three times higher than the overall county rate.

As part of Tuesday's motion, introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the directors of Public Health and Parks and Rec would identify ways to measure the success of the violence intervention services and report back to the supervisors  in six months.