L.A. Mayor Releases Details of Gang Plan

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Los Angeles city leaders say they're making a historic shift in the way they try to remove kids -- and keep them -- from the reach of gangs. Instead of spreading programs across the city, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he'll focus resources on a dozen of the city's most gang- infested areas. His decision follows a series of high profile gang shootings. KPCC's Frank Stoltze has more.

Frank Stoltze: Jeff Carr is L.A.'s Deputy Mayor for Gang Reduction and Youth Development. Since he took the job last year, he's been looking at how the city has approached gang prevention.

Jeff Carr: Often the way we've done this work in the past, is there is a very high profile shooting. Government has responded to those shootings with throwing some amount of money at them to start some program. Often very quickly, not thought through, not based on research and data, but based on a response to this lots of attention and public pressure. That's what ended today. We are not gonna do that anymore...

Stoltze: Carr stood in front of a map inside the mayor's City Hall press room. Different colors mark areas from Pacoima, to Boyle Heights, to South L.A., where the city now plans to concentrate its gang programs. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa anticipates opposition from people outside the selected areas.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: They're going to be concerned. They're going to be upset. They're going to charge that we've abandoned them. And what we're saying is, we've got to put the resources where the crime is, particularly where the gang crime is.

Stoltze: The mayor proposes spending one-and-a-half million dollars on gang prevention and intervention in those areas. Each encompasses several neighborhoods within about 20 square miles. Civil rights attorney Connie Rice praised the plan. Last year, she produced a report that urged the city to focus its anti-gang resources.

Connie Rice: Business as usual has ended. The city today is no longer dividing by 15 just to be able to divide by 15.

Stoltze: Rice was referring to the practice of spreading programs among the city's 15 council districts to satisfy political interests. Rice, who sits on the Southern California Public Radio board, estimated that 300,000 kids live in L.A.'s high gang crime zones. Many of those young people, she said, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rice: These children test at the same level as our troops in Baghdad. They also can't learn, because they are so traumatized and so chronically exposed to violence.

Stoltze: Deputy Mayor Carr said it can be tricky to figure out which kids are most likely to enter the gang life.

Carr: The research says that only 15% of the kids in any neighborhood, even the worst neighborhood, will actually join a gang; 85% of the kids in this city will never join a gang. The problem is we have had no means by which we predicted who those 15% were.

Stoltze: Carr said he's trying to develop those means. The mayor's plan calls for eliminating the current Bridges anti-gang programs. Critics have described them as "hit and miss." Villaraigosa proposes evaluating all of the current contractors, hiring the best, and sending them through a new gang worker training academy. Deputy Mayor Carr said this effort will matter beyond the borders of Los Angeles, where gang violence has killed and maimed tens of thousands of people.

Carr: The whole world is watching. I mean, there are people that are hoping that we can figure out a way to do this, because what's happened is the problem has been exported from Los Angeles to other cities around the country.

Stoltze: The mayor's budget increases gang prevention and intervention spending from about 18 to 24 million dollars. It's not a lot in a $7 billion budget. But Carr believes, if they can get gang prevention right, political leaders may be willing to spend more on one of the city's most pervasive problems.