Some of the more notorious gangs originated in Los Angeles, like the Crips and Bloods. L.A. has a long history of gangs and gang violence, and some of the gangs from L.A. have taken hold in Memphis. Over the last couple of years, though, Los Angeles has had some success in reducing the number of violent acts committed by gangs.
Guillermo Cespedes is the Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles. He heads the city’s gang intervention program. He’s worked four decades fighting gang violence, first as a social worker, and since 2007 as the Deputy Mayor.
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Last year was the first year since the 1960s that there were fewer than 300 homicides in Los Angeles. Cespedes says they’ve reduced violence in the most violent neighborhoods by 16 percent. As each gang-related homicide costs the city around $1.2 million, reducing violence through community programs is a cost-saver in the long-run.
Summer is the most violent in some parts of Los Angeles, so the city opens its recreational facilities that are located in some of the most dangerous areas each night from seven to midnight. The entire community is invited. Toddlers to elders participate, as well as gang members. Cespedes says the goal is for people to engage in activities that are not gang related. They serve food and provide activities for everyone, with gang intervention workers and police present. And, in the neighborhoods that they’ve opened the community centers, they’ve seen a 57 percent reduction in homicide. Other violent felonies have been reduced by 40 percent. Cespedes says he sees this strategy as a “giant community inoculation strategy.”
Like the Memphis Police Department, Los Angeles uses data to drive their decisions. But the data does more than focus the attention of the police. It involves the mayor’s office, gang intervention workers and the police.
When they see an area of the city that has a very high crime rate, they go into action. Cespedes says they use a multi-prong approach to tamping down the violence and stopping young people from getting involved in gang life. One strategy is to focus on youth 10-15 years old who are most likely to join a gang, and help them and their families choose healthy alternatives. They also intervene with fully-committed gang members. That of course is more difficult, so they meet them at crisis points: at the murder scene or the hospital when someone is likely to rethink their choices. When a gang member decides to leave gang life behind, social workers help them with an exit strategy. These community action teams work in the target areas of the city year-round to engage stakeholders, and that includes everyone, even the gang members.
Cespedes says they work from the “body bag on up,” meaning they start gathering information immediately upon an act of violence because they have to figure out if the act is between rival gangs or if it’s internal to the gang. If it’s rivalry, they take action to quell any possible retaliation.
Production assistance by Elizabeth Hollingsworth.