Facing the Challenge of Violence in South LA

10/07/2015 02:05 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2016

Recent coverage of crime spikes and "cyber banging" as new phenomena have missed some important aspects of what the LA basin is actually experiencing. Now that is not to say that recent articles are entirely wrong, but just missing the right context and some key facts.

Are shootings rising in some gang-ridden neighborhoods of LA? Yes. Are most of those shootings gang-related? That has always been the case and is nothing new. Is LA failing to respond? No. The local press has that wrong. LAPD, the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, gang intervention, neighborhood groups and advocates like Urban Peace Institute are doing a lot of what is possible. But some missteps and backsliding are occurring, and the groups are not doing everything they could in the most effective way. Here's what's missing:

Background

The 20-year low in crime rates is not just the result of strategic community policing, flooding crime areas with cops, cooperation between LAPD and gang intervention, and strategic community action. All of these are important results of the Bratton/Beck transformation of LAPD, and, at the insistence of City Controller Laura Chick, the implementation of recommendations in the groundbreaking 2007 report, "A Call to Action: The Case for a Comprehensive Approach to LA's Gang Violence Epidemic" by Urban Peace Institute.

In that report, we called for the formation of the Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office, the appointment of a Gang Czar, Summer Night Lights, replacement of the 'war on gangs' with neighborhood and family strategies based on public health models that engage the root causes of gangs, support for neighborhood crime fighters and gang interventionists, offering kids in poor neighborhoods alternatives to gangs, and a number of other key steps to reversing LA's gang violence and gang homicide epidemics. The implementation of some of these recommendations, the transformation of LAPD, and professionalization of gang intervention substantially reduced violence levels suffered by children living in gang-dominated neighborhoods. But the incomplete implementation of that report, the reduced power of the gang reduction office, and several mistaken policing tactics threaten to end what progress has been made.

What's Missing

Relying on "shot-callers" is no longer the primary tactic but still has value in some areas. Younger gang members have been paying less heed to older gangsters for a really long time, so we can't lay current trends of ignoring elders at the feet of millennials. Responding to "cyber-banging" has been part of the portfolio for over five years. Gang intervention has always had to walk a fine line between community and law enforcement. Contrary to reporting, the vast majority of gang intervention workers in the City have been trained to adhere to strict standards of conduct and practice, which includes keeping their work separate from law enforcement to preserve their credibility and independence.

The City can improve its strategy by truly embracing a comprehensive, community-oriented response that emphasizes violence prevention and wrap around services, rather than the crisis driven response to violence that has dominated. Cyber banging is not new. Currently, all City-contracted gang interventionists receive training on it through Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy (LAVITA). But to respond effectively to the way cyber banging affects violence and gang structure, with lightning speed and viral dissemination, requires a level of coordination between City, LAPD, community and intervention that has not yet been achieved.

Given how quickly community dynamics can be impacted by the internet and how rumor and innuendo can destroy hard earned relationships, it is ever more important to have separation between law enforcement and intervention but working towards the same goals. This requires law enforcement to to avoid controlling gang intervention, and intervention to not permit law enforcement to use it as a conduit of information. In the long run, even the perception of such a dynamic will be counterproductive to law enforcement and violence reduction. Moreover, while intervention has to be accountable to execute the strategy, LAPD and others must guard against undermining the strategy itself by uplifting individuals who lack the training and capacity to deliver in their role as interventionists.

Critics are correct that the violence in South LA requires a rapid response, but that response needs to be comprehensive and city-wide in perspective with tactics tailored to the need of each community. It certainly cannot be reactive, incomplete and under-resourced. It also requires City and community leaders to coalesce around the mission of violence reduction, leverage resources and coordinate efforts--and not start pointing fingers and panicking because crime ticks upward. All of these strategies mean a coordinated response by LAPD, the Mayor's GRYD office (which must be unfettered and free to lead in communities), community leaders and gang intervention with substantial support from City Council and County leadership.

The good news is that people have already started coming together and there is a GRYD-led South LA strategy in the works with local seasoned intervention, and some City Council offices to tackle the all too real surge in violence. It will take the support of all to succeed.

Connie Rice is a long time civil rights attorney and visionary leader of the Urban Peace Institute. Susan Lee is the Executive Director at Urban Peace Institute and expert in police reform and city-wide community safety strategies.