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Antonio Villaraigosa

Antonio Villaraigosa

Posted: July 16, 2009 06:25 PM

Summer Night Lights


Last summer, our City came forward with a simple - yet radical - idea. For two months, we dared to challenge the conventional wisdom that gun violence and gang battles plague the summer months. So we took a different approach to gang prevention in our City parks through a program called "Summer Night Lights" (SNL).

SNL had three basic components, all of which focused on engaging young people in positive activities during peak times for violence.

First, eight recreation centers in the City's Gang Reduction and Youth Development Zones - which have a crime rate four times higher than other parts of the City - extended their hours until midnight for four nights each week, and expanded their programming to include youth-centered recreational, educational and artistic activities.

Second, ten at-risk youth (17-20 years old) were hired at each park to create and staff the extended hours and programs. These young people were at risk of being either victims or perpetrators of violence. The idea was to engage the young people most connected to the problem and challenge them to be a part of the solution.

This year, we've hired 160 at-risk youth to be a part of SNL.

Finally, community intervention workers were brought on site to help maintain cease-fires at the recreation centers and in the surrounding community. The goal was not to try and change the identity of local gang members, but rather to change their behavior during the summer and encourage them to participate in the positive activities at the parks.

As I said, it was a simple idea, but it had a tremendous impact. By the time Labor Day rolled around, SNL communities saw a 17% reduction in gang crime. It was the safest summer in more than three decades.

Building on last summer's success, we have doubled-down on our efforts and increased the number of SNL sites from 8 to 16 in a broader strategy to give our sons and daughters a chance to lead productive, crime-free lives. From Boyle Heights to Pacoima, Hollywood to Watts and everywhere in between, young people of all ages are now spending the summer nights in our parks. They are choosing an alternative to crime and joining other young people in their community in games of healthy competition while reinforcing friendships.

And as the New York Times highlighted over the weekend, our anti-gang initiative is helping us take back our parks and our communities for our youth and families.

You can read more about my Summer Night Lights program here.

Cross-posted at Mayor.Lacity.org

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