LOS ANGELES — The nation's gang capital launched its official training academy for anti-gang workers on Thursday with a $200,000 contract and high hopes.
By developing standards, curriculum and oversight for former gang members attending the Los Angeles Gang Intervention Training Academy, city officials hope interventionists' work will become more professional and well publicized cases of anti-gang workers falling back into their former life of crime can be avoided.
"Although overall crime continues to drop in Los Angeles, we continue to see gang violence as one of the serious threats facing our city," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a news conference.
Los Angeles, home to over 400 gangs with 39,000 known members, spends $26 million a year on gang intervention agencies, which help negotiate cease-fires between rival gangs and work to steer youth away from gang life.
But interventionists are usually former gang members who have little formal training in crisis-management and legal boundaries. City officials also say there is little oversight and accountability for interventionists.
Officials hope that will change with the new academy, which is set to roll out in March with a first class of 100 interventionists currently under contract to the city's Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
The academy will be run by the Advancement Project, a nonprofit co-founded by prominent civil rights attorney and activist Connie Rice.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said at the news conference that he is committed to involving police officers in the effort.
"The police department is not only supportive of this, we are involved in this – we are part of the curriculum," Beck said. "I am absolutely relentless in my desire to speak to the intervention classes myself."
Potential academy students will be subject to extensive background checks and interviews with the academy's Professional Standards Committee. That committee will also be in charge of the interventionists' code of conduct and administering certification interviews.
Some of the problems the city has faced with intervention groups or individuals in the past:
_ The city terminated its contract with Unity T.W.O. after the group was unable to account for hundreds of millions of dollars in government money.
_ The executive director of Homies Unidos was arrested on federal racketeering and conspiracy charges.
_ An interventionist once praised as a model of reform was charged with robbing a well-known rapper.