In a recent report released by the Advancement Project called “Community Safety Scorecard City of Los Angeles 2011,” it was noted that Los Angeles city has experienced nine consecutive years of record crime reduction, and that in and around some parks, the gang-related homicides had plunged by 57 percent.
The Advancement Project used the report and its own work as the basis for a mayoral forum last Thursday that explored the topic of neighborhood safety and how the candidates would address the issue if they were elected mayor.
Wendy Greuel, Kevin James and Jan Perry participated in the forum, while Eric Garcetti had a previous engagement.
The forum featured a presentation by Advancement Project co-founder Connie Rice that chronicled how the city had achieved the notable crime reduction.
She credited mayors Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Los Angeles police chiefs Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck, and a federal consent decree, for playing a key role in changing the thinking around policing in L.A.
In particular, Rice pointed to the creation of the office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) and its placement in the mayor’s office as a critical component of the reduction in gang violence.
Rice also noted that there are 300,000 children trapped in so-called gang hot zones who need to be serviced by a wrap-around strategy designed to keep them safe and out of gangs, and the next mayor needed to “take the baton from Mayor Villaraigosa and run like the wind.”
Additionally, she praised the location of the GRYD office in the mayor’s office, noting that this allowed for better coordination and accountability.
Rice also asked each of the candidates about what she called a “bad” idea floated by Garcetti to turn GRYD into a commission, and questioned if they would ensure that the GRYD office remained in the mayor’s office if elected. Each candidate said yes.
Greuel added that keeping GRYD in the mayor’s office would ensure that there is someone to hold accountable.
“This is too much of a priority. You’re talking about at-risk youth. That is not something for a commission that has other things as its focus,” said James. “This has to be their focus,” added the candidate, who said that the mayor has to be a public champion for GRYD.
Perry said not only would she keep the program in the mayor’s office for continuity, but would elevate the program’s profile and expand it.
In addition to Rice, a panel of journalists, as well as audience members asked questions.
Among the queries was how would they, as mayor, take the gang strategy to the next level.
“By focusing on prevention and intervention,” said Greuel. “I would work closely with the police and after-school programs like L.A.’s Best.”
James said he would recruit more people in the community who have the trust of gang members. People beyond gang-intervention workers. He would also coordinate better with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Another question addressed the topic of the gang database.
Each of the candidates agreed that it was time to look at the criteria for how people are placed on and get off the database.
“It might be time to look at the methodology of how they get on, and see if the definition of why they are on the list is still relevant. We might need to change focus to look at early intervention to give them the option to avoid it all together,” said Perry.
A question from the audience was what role gang-intervention workers would play in the candidates’ strategy, and each said these individuals play a critical role.
James believes this role needs to be augmented by a job development case worker as well as an activity coordinator who would serve as a liaison between the program and schools.
A question from a teenager, who said he was struggling with depression and addiction, turned a spotlight on the dearth of mental health services.
Perry pointed to the need to incorporate mental health services and clinics on school sites and open them up to students and their families. Greuel pinpointed the need to provide teachers and parents with more training to identify students who are struggling; and James, who recounted a similar problems with gay youth, stressed the need for encouraging awareness and tolerance.