Thirteen California Cities Share Strategies through Gang Prevention Network
Early in 2007, 13 cities in California joined a new network to identify and share effective strategies for preventing gang violence. Sponsored by the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families in partnership with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and with the full cooperation of both the California Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices, the California Cities Gang Prevention Network has helped jump-start collaborative antigang efforts that will generate insights for other cities across the nation.
The network rests on the core assumption that gang violence can be reduced if participating cities develop citywide plans that mobilize the commitment of key stakeholders and that the cities share their lessons—both positive and negative—with each other.
“I have found people from Network cities to be passionate, committed, and open to trying new ways of doing things to address arguably the greatest challenge we face as cities here in California,” says Reverend Jeff Carr, director of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development. “The issue of youth violence and gangs is going to require creative imagination and some risk taking if we are going to make progress. The California Cities Gang Prevention Network provides a context where that can happen.”
Participating cities include Fresno, Los Angeles (San Fernando Valley), Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, Salinas, San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Stockton. Each city has formed a five- to eight-member team with at least one representative from the mayor’s office, the chief of police and the community, as well as other municipal leaders, law enforcement officials, school administrators, and faith-based and nonprofit stakeholders. The network is supported by a consortium of private foundations.
The four goals of the network are as follows:
- Creating citywide strategies that blend enforcement, prevention, and intervention
- Creating a vibrant network of urban leaders in California who will work with, and learn from, peers to advance local antigang strategies
- Identifying and documenting what programs and policies work and what do not work
- Identifying and recommending state and federal policies and practices that support effective community-based approaches.
The network serves as an information conduit, but it is much more than that. It is a source of inspiration and validation, providing a context in which local officials share frustrations and hopes as they wrestle with one of the nation’s most vexing social problems. Network members are on the phone with each other constantly; they e-mail, serve on each other’s panels, and visit each other. One city may be strong in innovative law enforcement practice, another with utilization of former offenders as street workers. According to San Jose Chief of Police Robert Davis, “We’re shoulder to shoulder, pushing the wheel together. This has never been done in a state before. This is a watershed moment.”
Even at this early stage, the network can point to five principles that increase the chances of reducing gang violence and building communities that do not produce crime. These five principles mirror the basic tenets of community-oriented policing, namely that reducing gang violence is not solely a law enforcement problem, but a community problem of which law enforcement is but one part, and that as the community’s needs change, so must law enforcement and its sister agencies change. These emerging principles are as follows:
- The mayor and police chief must lead together. This leadership combines the moral (“This will not be tolerated…”), the conceptual (a plan), and the bureaucratic (city business will be done in a different way).
- Law enforcement and social services must not be seen as antithetical concepts. As parents, we set limits and we nurture. Reducing gang violence requires conveying the certainty of consequences and the certainty of help. Police enforce the law, but at the same time many police leaders are ardent proponents of prevention.
- A comprehensive strategy must be developed. A program here and there will not save a city. All key civic entities must play a role: schools, business, and the faith community, to name a few.
- An entity must be designated or created. A commission or task force would track the work once a plan is developed.
- The community must get close to its vulnerable young. Gang members are lured into gangs by those who seem to care about them. The community, police, and social services must know gang members’ names in order to stop them, help them, and show them they care.
Cities having trouble manifest the opposite. Sometimes, the mayor and the chief are not working together; in other cases, programs are started with little or no connection to other initiatives, or there is a strategic disproportion, such as too much or too little enforcement.
At the 18-month mark, most of the network’s progress can be seen in terms of “process”: the creation or enhancement of citywide planning entities, development of strategies, and a more courageous penetration of antigang work into the community, such as the use of street workers and partnerships with the faith community. Some cities can point to outcomes, most notably San Bernardino, which reports a 38 percent reduction in gang crime in its Operation Phoenix area. The city has decentralized city services, fostering partnerships at the street level between police and child welfare, public health, zoning, and other agencies.
While too early to claim the certainty of success, law enforcement, once skeptical, is extremely enthusiastic. “Every time the Fresno team attends a 13-city meeting, we’ve taken something away from it,” says Deputy Chief Keith Foster, “and given the calls that have come into us, I know we have a few things other cities want. Bottom line: the network pushes us never to be happy with our current status. The minute we stop revising and critiquing, we stagnate.”
John Calhoun is the founder of the National Crime Prevention Council, which he led as president and CEO for 20 years. This article was written in consultation with Katherine McQuay, Supervisory Policy Analyst for the COPS Office.
The COPS Office offers a number of publications relating to gang activity and gang- prevention strategies, many of which are available on the Solutions to Address Gang Crime CD-ROM. (Available for order or download at www.cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ResourceDetail.aspx?RID=388)
Also available is the very popular Gang Reference Card for Parents ( www.cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ResourceDetail.aspx?RID=96) which is also available in Spanish, Hmong, and Vietnamese.