LA wants all anti-gang programs to be pulling in the same direction

The Los Angeles City Council has approved a proposal to consolidate the city’s anti-gang efforts into a four-year, multimillion-dollar pilot program that will target at-risk middle-school students and will require for the first time that community-based programs show progress in order to be eligible for continued funding.

The program, called “L.A. Bridges,” will require competitive bidding for groups seeking city funds to fight gang problems. The program will hold all accountable to the same general standards, coordinate their efforts and require them to undergo audits to gauge their effectiveness.

L.A. Bridges was devised after eight months of study by a 21-member, ad hoc committee of community leaders, elected officials, sociologists and others, that was impaneled by the City Council following the September 1995 death of a 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen, whose family’s car strayed into a gang-infested neighborhood and was sprayed with bullets. The committee, chaired by City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, unanimously approved the plan in September.

As much as $12 million of local, state and Federal funds will be spent annually on the effort  more than double the amount the city currently spends on anti-gang programs. Hailed by some city officials as an innovative approach, the program was approved last month and is expected to be in place by April 1, replacing a crazy-quilt system of community-based, anti-gang programs that were not required to submit to evaluations of their effectiveness.

“I haven’t seen a program like this ever,” said Michael Genelin, who heads the hard-core gang unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. “We have had programs that have been repeatedly funded, and there has never been any assessment of their effectiveness. Those programs have goals and objectives but we have no idea if they have been met.”

Officials said some of the two dozen existing programs will continue to receive funding if they successfully complete the bidding process. Although funding for current programs is set to end Jan. 31, the city is trying to cobble together monies to keep them in business until L.A. Bridges goes into effect.

Eventually, all city-funded gang programs would fall under L.A. Bridges, which will be run by an administrator and a seven-member staff.

The program will initially focus on students ages 10-14 at 25 of the city’s 52 middle schools, most of which are in areas with high rates of violent crime and gang activity. The program may be expanded to other schools if funds become available, said Capt. Dan Koenig, commander of the LAPD’s Detective Support Division, who is also the agency’s gang coordinator.

Community oversight committees will be formed to help tailor the programs to the needs of specific neighborhoods. The program will also utilize the resources of neighborhood schools, parents, businesses and libraries, as well as those of police and social-service agencies.

Anti-gang programs will submit quarterly reports on their activities, and all participants will be evaluated annually by an outside consultant, to be chosen by the city under a competitive bidding process, Koenig told Law Enforcement News.

“It’s difficult to measure effectiveness when you have a sort of at-large charter,” he said. “This way, we’ll be able to better measure effectiveness…. We are not going to wait for a year to find out how it’s doing.”

While evaluation criteria have not yet been set, Koenig said some may involve monitoring students’ grades and test scores and analyzing trends in behavioral problems at the schools.

L.A. Bridges also includes a police component focusing on prevention programs. “Of course, we have an interest in its success because the more successful it is, the less work we’ll have,” said Koenig. “If it works, we have fewer gangs, and therefore, less crime.”

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Published in Law Enforcement News
Dec. 15, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.