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Panel says LA Mayor Villaraigosa should give up control of anti-gang programs

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attends the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 at the Cox Pavilion at UNLV August 10, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attends the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 at the Cox Pavilion at UNLV August 10, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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A Los Angeles City Council committee that reviewed gang prevention and intervention programs says the mayor's office provides too little transparency.

The panel chairman Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas said the city should move anti-gang programs out of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office and into a city department that’s more accountable to the council, and the public.

“I wouldn’t say this mayor has been hiding things," Cardenas told KPCC. "But what I will say is when we ask something of a department, they tell us 'we will give you that information within 30 days, we’ll get you that information within 60 days.'"

He said when the council asks for information on anti-gang programs from the mayor's office, the mayor's staff says "we’ll get back to you.” He said the council has no power to compel the mayor to provide information.

Cardenas praised the mayor for improving gang prevention programs since he assumed control of them last year, but he said those programs belong in a more “transparent” city department.

A spokeswoman for Villaraigosa said his Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office is transparent and should remain under his control.

As most of these reports do, the final report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development decried a lack of cooperation among L.A.’s myriad agencies.

“Right now, we have very little collaboration with the county, with the school district and with other entities that serve this population," said Cardenas.

On the other hand, the report praised new cooperation between the city’s gang intervention workers and police.

LAPD Commander Pat Gannon testified about the shooting of a boy near a South L.A. public housing project.

“His relatives that live in Nickerson had a strong gang presence about them. But they also had one uncle that was involved in the intervention process."

Gannon credited the uncle, who works with the Watts Gang Task Force, with preventing an escalation in violence.

He also acknowledged the report’s recommendation that the LAPD train officers to cooperate more with gang intervention workers.

“Younger officers tend to look at things in black and white – either you’re on my side or you’re not. And gang interventionists are working in a world of different shades of gray," he said.

Many intervention workers are ex-gang members who would lose their effectiveness on the streets if other people saw them offering police information about suspects.

“I think you see collaboration now that you never would have seen two, three, four years ago," said Aquil Basheer of the gang intervention training group Maximum Force Enterprises. "I mean we still have a whole lot of work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Basheer and Councilman Cardenas share a concern that as violent crime eases, there’s a tendency to think L.A. doesn’t need as many gang prevention and intervention programs.

“Yes crime is down. Yes murders are down. Yes we’re more coordinated in this city than we’ve ever been before," said Cardenas. "But we’re still nowhere near where we need to be.”

Nearly half the 280 murders so far this year were gang related, and the LAPD estimates that 40,000 people – many of them young men and boys – belong to gangs in the city.

Cardenas believes L.A. would need to quadruple its annual spending on prevention and intervention – to $100 million – so it could steer the city’s most active gang members in another direction.

That funding is unlikely to come as the city continues to face a severe budget crisis.