Network of California Cities Shares Gang Prevention Strategies
by Michael Karpman and Clifford M. Johnson
Municipal leaders, law enforcement officials and community partners from 13 California cities came together in Oakland on Jan. 24–25 to identify and share strategies for reducing gang violence and victimization in their communities.
The newly created California Cities Gang Prevention Network seeks to support these efforts by strengthening collaboration within and among city teams and helping them shape comprehensive local action plans. The network is sponsored by the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education and Families and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
“Violent crime and the well-being of young people are key priorities for city leaders in communities across America,” said NLC President and Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson in announcing the creation of the network. “This groundbreaking, California-focused effort will help mayors, police chiefs and their community partners forge more effective strategies to prevent gang violence, while also generating important new lessons that NLC will share nationwide.”
Network member cities include Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, Salinas, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton. Led by the mayor’s office and law enforcement officials, each city is represented by a team of five to eight people that includes stakeholders such as school leaders, probation and public health officers, and representatives of community and faith organizations.
Funding for the network has been provided by the California Wellness Foundation, the California Endowment, East Bay Community Foundation and Richmond Children’s Foundation. The California Office of the Attorney General and the City of Oakland provided additional support for this inaugural network meeting.
Crime and Gang Violence On the Rise
NLC launched the network in response to widespread concern regarding gang violence and a spike in violent crime taking place in many larger cities across the state and the nation. FBI and California Department of Justice statistics show that violent crime rose 3.7 percent nationally and 4.1 percent in California in the first six months of 2006 compared with the same time period in 2005.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Youth Gang Survey, in 2004, approximately one-fourth of all homicides in 171 cities with populations above 100,000 were considered gang-related. These numbers exclude Los Angeles and Chicago, where more than half of homicides involved gangs.
David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, challenged city teams to seek dramatic reductions in gang violence by fundamentally changing the relationship between law enforcement and the community, and engaging residents in powerful efforts to re-establish social norms and community supports. Citing knowledge and evidence gained through nationally recognized ceasefire initiatives in cities throughout the nation, Kennedy observed, “We know how to do this. [But] we don’t act like it.”
City Teams Use Multi-Faceted Approaches
At the meeting, city teams discussed potential ways of confronting the gang problem by weaving together prevention, intervention, enforcement and a strong community voice into more comprehensive and effective strategies to reduce gang violence and victimization.
In opening the network meeting, John Calhoun (former CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council and NLC’s lead consultant on the initiative) emphasized that “we must stop gang violence, but we must also give youth the certainty of options and support so that gangs who promise prison and even death do not become the sole options.”
San Jose city officials shared the progress of its Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force. Co-chaired by Mayor Chuck Reed and Police Chief Robert Davis, the task force brings together city, county, state and community leaders and has reduced youth violent crime by half, cut the school dropout rate and reduced commitments to Juvenile Hall and foster care. Santa Rosa Mayor Bob Blanchard created a similar task force in 2004 to respond to increased gang activity through targeted outreach, counseling and job training for at-risk youth.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders recently announced the creation of a Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention to develop a more strategic, coordinated and collaborative effort between the city, law enforcement, service providers and the public.
In Los Angeles, the city-sponsored San Fernando Valley Coalition on Gangs, which was instrumental in empowering neighborhoods to reduce gang-related homicides between 2001 and 2005, now faces new challenges as gang violence and crime increase.
“It’s so important to have the mayor and chief of police leading the effort,” said Police Chief Davis. “Their personal involvement sends a powerful message to political leaders and the larger community that this effort is serious and important.”
Leaders from Fresno, Salinas and San Francisco also described unique intervention strategies that encompassed truancy reduction, after-school programs, tattoo removal, re-entry of youth from the juvenile justice system, and using street workers to reach out directly to gang members.
Working Toward Prevention
The following day, cities shared prevention strategies that reach children at young ages. While some efforts respond to a culture of violence, others focus on preventing bullying and child abuse.
For instance, the City of Oakland and Alameda County Public Health Department have formed the Oakland Gang Prevention and Intervention Providers Network to educate the public on gang prevention, coordinate service provision, collaborate on best practices and make policy recommendations. The city has also dedicated funds toward support services for families and friends of homicide victims and for parent education programs for families with at-risk elementary and middle school students.
Oxnard Police Chief John Crombach described his city’s efforts to advance a prevention strategy by expanding access to preschool programs, family support services, and tutoring and mentoring for at-risk children and youth.
“We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” said Oxnard Mayor Thomas Holden. “Without prevention and intervention, it’s not going to work.”
Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue echoed this view. “We have done a lot of things well in the suppression and intervention areas,” he noted. “[But] more and more people in our community are now talking about prevention.”
Attention turned later to enforcement strategies from Sacramento, Richmond, Stockton and San Bernardino. Periodic sweeps to get known gang members off the street, close coordination with probation and federal law enforcement officers, and efforts to restrict access to guns are among the tactics utilized to combat gang violence.
The meeting gave city teams ample opportunities to discuss what is and is not working, integrate new ideas and frame local action plans for moving forward. The teams will continue to develop and share knowledge with each other during the three-year project.
With guidance from a statewide advisory board, NLC and NCCD will develop a resource bank of information, publish monthly bulletins and strategic briefs on lessons learned and provide on-site technical assistance to participating cities. In addition, network cities will identify policy changes that could be made at the state and federal level to support local efforts.
“Many young people engage in violence due to issues of respect. We must re-establish in our communities a basic respect for human dignity, for all human life,” said Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. “When you ask young people why they act out the way they do, they say they are emulating us! The children are watching us. As adults, we must begin to set a better example,” he added.
Reprinted with permission from the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Nation’s Cities Weekly. Michael Karpman is program associate for outreach at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families (IYEF). Clifford M. Johnson is executive director of IYEF.
To learn more about the California Cities Gang Prevention Network, visit www.nlc.org/iyef or contact Leon Andrews; phone: (202) 626-3039; e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>.