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LA’s New Program to Tackle Recidivism, Funding the New Jail Plan, KPPC Interviews Todd Rogers, and R.I.P. Farley Mowat

May 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a welcome new LA County recidivism-reduction pilot program called “Back on Track LA.”

Participants will receive a case manager and 12-18 months of education and other crucial re-entry services while incarcerated, and 12 more months of services once they are released. Inmates eligible for participation will be non-violent non-sexual offenders between the ages of 18-30.

Here’s a clip from AG Harris’ website:

“We must reject the false choice of being ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ on crime,” Attorney General Harris said. “It is time for smart on crime policies that keep our communities safe, hold offenders accountable, and reduce our prison population. Back on Track LA will work to reduce levels of recidivism by connecting offenders with the education and job opportunities that get their lives back on track.”

The “Back on Track LA” pilot program will deliver critical education and comprehensive re-entry services before and after an individual is released from jail. The pilot program will build on LASD’s “Education Based Incarceration Program,” through a partnership with the Los Angeles Community College District – specifically, Los Angeles Mission College and Los Angeles Trade Tech College to provide higher education opportunities for incarcerated participants that include prerequisites to community college degrees, credentials and certificates. The program will focus on the critical time following an individual’s release from jail, by providing the seamless re-entry services essential for success, including employment and life skill services.

“Back on Track LA” will emphasize accountability by assigning participants a case manager or coach to develop a plan that holds individuals accountable to their families, communities and victims.

Individuals will be enrolled in the pilot program for 24-30 months—divided into 12-18 months in-custody and 12 months out-of-custody. Participants will consist of non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crime offenders between the ages of 18 to 30 years old who are incarcerated in the LASD jail system following the implementation of Public Safety Realignment.


Now that the Los Angeles County Supervisors have approved a plan for replacing the crumbling Men’s Central Jail with a price tag nearing the $2 billion mark, county officials have to figure out how to fund such a costly undertaking. The county will likely have to issue bonds, which could require a tax increase, but there may be additional ways to pay for the new jail.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

As with most big government projects, the funds are likely to come from borrowing through the issuance of bonds. But whether repaying those bonds will require a tax increase is yet to be determined.

“There’s no other way to fund this than out of the general fund, so the county is going to have to borrow money,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said in an interview.

He warned that servicing the debt, and paying the interest, would be “very expensive.”

But Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said the county seems to have the capacity to issue bonds for the jail plan, which includes tearing down Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and then building a Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility in its place, as well as renovating Mira Loma Detention Center to accommodate female inmates.

“Right now, our level of debt is extremely low, very low,” Fujioka said Tuesday in response to a question from Supervisor Michael Antonovich during a public hearing.


Voter approval would be necessary if the county were to issue general obligation bonds, which would likely be repaid through a tax increase. But for previous infrastructure projects such as the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall and the acquisition of electronic health records systems, the county instead issued general indebtedness bonds, which do not have to be placed on the ballot for approval and don’t require tax increases.

County Assistant CEO Ryan Alsop said another way to finance the jail plan is by asking the state of California to cover at least a portion of the bill. He pointed out AB 109, also known as Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment program, diverted thousands of inmates from state prisons to local jails.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” Alsop said. “Something must be done.”

“The governor has proposed $500 million towards (jail funding) in his January budget, most of which we would like to see allocated to counties like Los Angeles, who have been hit the hardest by AB 109,” he added.


The board gave the CEO up to 60 days to come up with a plan for financing the infrastructure projects, but Yaroslavsky is worried that the $1.7 billion price tag may be understated.

He said Vanir Construction Management, which provided the estimate, said the numbers should change.

“They told the board that the (almost) $2 billion estimate of construction could go up by 30 percent, could go down by 30 percent,” he said.

Read on.


KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers as part of Stoltze’s ongoing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates. (Stoltze also has profiles on James Hellmold, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka, and Jim McDonnell that are worth reading, if you missed them.)

Here’s a clip from the Rogers story:

Rogers, 52, is relatively new to the position of assistant sheriff. Only a handful of people hold that rank, which is just below the undersheriff — the number two person in the department.

Last year, then-Sheriff Lee Baca promoted Rogers to assistant cheriff from his rank as commander, leapfrogging the rank of chief. Some have accused Rogers of cutting a deal with Baca by promising not to run against him. Rogers had been weighing a challenge to the powerful sheriff for several years.

“I did not sell my soul,” Rogers says. “I agreed to help him reform the Department.”

When Baca abruptly resigned in January, he named Rogers as a “highly qualified” candidate, prompting some to suggest he is too close to the old regime to be a reformer.

Rogers says while he respected the sheriff for some of his policies, there clearly was a “catastrophic failure of leadership.” He and Baca had “plenty of differences,” especially over the sheriff’s penchant for pet programs. One program involved assigning deputies to monitor social media.

“We had over 400 deputies on loan from street patrols to these unfunded programs,” said Rogers, who oversees the department $2.8 billion budget.

Like his fellow candidates, Rogers doesn’t have much name recognition with voters. But his campaign got some attention for a hilarious online ad featuring the cast of Comedy Central’s former sitcom “Reno 911.” Rogers knows the cast because the show was taped at the Carson station.

This isn’t to suggest Rogers isn’t a serious law enforcement executive. He’s one of a growing number willing to look at crime as a health problem.

The 28-year veteran, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State Dominguez Hills, described how he began a program where a deputy developed customized treatment plans for at-risk kids and young adults in collaboration with a panel of community-based experts in Carson.

“We can’t have one cure for every disease,” Rogers says. “We can’t have one cure for every kid or young adult that shows an inclination to be a gang member.”


Farley Mowat, kilt-wearing Canadian author of 45 books, including Never Cry Wolf, has died at the age of 88.

Mowat’s publisher and friend, Doug Gibson, fondly remembers the environmentalist author on NPR’s All Things Considered. Take a listen.

Posted in international issues, International politics, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, race, race and class, racial justice, women's issues | 5 Comments »

MORE POST TRIAL NEWS: Violence at an LA Prayer Vigil……”What Do I Tell My Boys Now?”….Zimmerman Juror’s Speedy Book Agent Deal……..and more

July 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


A well-organized, well-attended prayer vigil and community rally that began at Leimert Park early on Monday evening, was disrupted by a rowdy, angry and violent group of mostly young men on Tuesday night. The destruction-intent group was described by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck at an 11 pm press conference in the Crenshaw area as being made up about 150 people who reportedly vandalized Walmart, jumped on cars, broke windows in other nearby stores, and assaulted random people, including an attack injurying KCBS reporter Dave Bryan and his cameraman.

“The right of the many has been abused by the action of the few,” Beck said. The chief warned that on Monday he had allowed the protestors a lot of latitude, but that the latitude was about to vanish. “Parents, don’t send your children to protest in and around Crenshaw tomorrow,” Beck warned.

Mayor Eric Garcetti opened the 11 pm press conference by saying, “The verdict has ignited passions, but we have to make sure it doesn’t ignite our city.”

Garcetti was joined by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who spoke on similar themes. “Twenty-one years ago we witnessed what can happen when there’s a reaction to a verdict. I stand today to say a word about nonviolence…It’s the most effective way to communicate how to address injustice…”

Next up was City Councilman Bernard Parks who, like the other three, urged moderation: “You can protest. Your voices will be heard.” Parks asked demonstrators to focus on the “tragedy in Florida.” Instead, he said, “some people are trying to “create their own tragedy in the city of Los Angeles.

“This will not be tolerated after tonight.”

Community organizer Najee Ali, who was one of Monday night’s main rally organizers, was shaken by the melee caused by the splinter group or groups.

“I’m on my way home from one of the…craziest nights of my life,” he tweeted and posted on his Facebook page. “Its sad seeing our young people like that. To see them and what they did to innocent people was devastating.”

All officials stressed that the violent group was very much in the minority.

For additional reports see the LA Times and Natasha Vargas-Cooper from Buzzfeed.


Along with the ongoing news reports, editorials and the Op Eds, a series of pain and grief-laden essays by parents continue to appear. Here are a couple we didn’t think you should miss—one from New York, the other from LA.


Among the most emotionally affecting in the newest crop is this essay by NY Times columnist, Charles Blow. Here’s a clip from the essay’s end. But please read the whole:

…Sometimes people just need a focal point. Sometimes that focal point becomes a breaking point.

The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight. It is pervasive in policing policies — like stop-and-frisk, and in this case neighborhood watch — regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It’s like burning down a house to rid it of mice.

As a parent, particularly a parent of black teenage boys, I am left with the question, “Now, what do I tell my boys?”

We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly.

So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?

And can they ever stop walking away, or running away, and simply stand their ground? Can they become righteously indignant without being fatally wounded?

Is there anyplace safe enough, or any cargo innocent enough, for a black man in this country? Martin was where he was supposed to be — in a gated community — carrying candy and a canned drink.

The whole system failed Martin. What prevents it from failing my children, or yours?

I feel that I must tell my boys that, but I can’t. It’s stuck in my throat. It’s an impossibly heartbreaking conversation to have. So, I sit and watch in silence, and occasionally mouth the word, “breathe,” because I keep forgetting to.

But read what Blow wrote in the lead up—especially if you are a parent. Even more, if you are the parent of a boy, whatever color.


LA Times columnist Sandy Banks told how she is struggling painfully with similar questions, as do her friends. Again, please read the whole thing. But here’s a representative clip:

What do we tell the children?

That’s the cliched question we trot out when we’re confounded by cases like this. This time, for black parents at least, it’s more than rhetoric.

Lawrence Ross is an Inglewood author who travels to colleges around the country, counseling and encouraging black students. Ross is also the father of a 14-year-old boy, whose favorite show of independence these days is walking alone to the 7-Eleven near their gated community.

Ross has spent years teaching his son to be safe and not fall prey to others’ fears:

If you’re driving and the police stop you, put both hands on the dashboard, so the officer can see you don’t pose a threat. If you’re in the elevator alone with a white person, speak so they’ll know you’re articulate and they don’t have to fear you.

But the verdict delivered a message that mocks those parental pretensions: “The world has just been told that my son is [going to be] the aggressor,” Ross said. “That he has no right to exist without question or explanation. That’s devastating to me.

“I want him to walk out in the world as a productive and kind adult, without burdening him with all the sociological issues this country brings.” But he also can’t afford to let naivete disarm his boy.

“What is the safe point? That’s the conundrum. That’s what makes this resonate so strongly.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a mother, my heart tears open reading these accounts.

My own son is now 27, married, and living in the Bay Area with a fabulous job. In his skateboarding, fence jumping, late-night-walking, risk-taking, hormone-fraught teenage years, he mostly wore a beanie, not a hoodie.

And, most crucially, he is white.

But these essays still make me sob, and make me thankful that my cherished tall boy, the light of my life, is grown. To be honest, I’m also grateful that in his edgiest, scariest adolescent moments (and without going into detail, suffice it to say, that there were a few very scary times) I never had to deal with the added fear that race still brings into the mix.

Many of my other friends cannot say the same. And I grieve with them.

I grieve for all of us.



TUESDAY UPDATE – Book agent Sharlene Martin decides to recind the deal to represent Jurer B37 after watching the woman’s interview with Anderson Cooper, calling the contract a “grave mistake.”

LA Times reporter Hector Tobar makes an interesting observation in his story on Tuesday about the fact that a Zimmerman trial juror, the woman known as “Jurer B37,” somehow magically managed to have signed with a book agent by first thing Monday morning, meaning she and her attorney husband were very, very busy on Saturday night after the verdict, and on Sunday—either that OR the agency-representation-signing timeline is a little less attractive and ethical than anyone has yet admitted.

Here are the relevant clips from Tobar’s story:

Over the weekend, while thousands of people in various cities across the United States were protesting the George Zimmerman trial verdict, one of the six jurors in the trial was apparently quite busy on the phone—with a literary agent.

The not guilty verdict in the shooting of Trayvon Martin came on Saturday evening. And on Monday morning, the woman known as “Juror B37,” and the juror’s husband, had signed an agreement to be represented by the Los Angeles-based Martin Literary Management agency, as announced by the agency’s president, Sharlene Martin.


Anyone who’s ever tried to reach a literary agent over the weekend will question the timing of said announcement, which came less than 36 hours after the jury found Zimmerman not guilty of all counts. Is it possible that Juror B37, or her husband, was in contact with the agency before the six-woman jury even began to deliberate? And might a desire to transform her experience as a juror into a marketable story have influenced B37’s view of the case?

Good (and very discomforting) question.

Just so you know, Tobar, in addition to his work at the LA Times, is a talented and well-regarded novelist, meaning he’s familiar with such things as getting agents on the phone over any given weekend.

So, yeah, all you jurors, make literary and TV movie deals, if you can manage it. God speed! But it would have been comforting to know that all the deal hustling waited at least until after the deliberations over a very painful murder trial had been safely completed.


Aside from the oddly-timed book deal deal it seems B37 is a bit of a quirky girl.

Here’s a clip from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick’s story that questions “Why her?” with regard to B37′s selection.

Less than two days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, juror B37, one of the six members of the anonymous panel, signed with a literary agent to shop her book about the trial.

The news comes with a bonus video: juror B37’s entire voir dire captured on film and promoted today by Gawker. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Sadly the GAWKER voir dire video has since been yanked from YouTube, but here's another.] The process by which counsel on each side of the case interviews prospective jurors is revealing in all kinds of ways, and a useful lesson in the strengths and weaknesses of the jury system. In the case of B37, it is also master class on how to not know anything about something everyone else knows about.

Start with the general observations already raised in Gawker: B37 consumes no media beyond the Today Show—no radio, no Internet news and no newspapers used for anything but lining her parrot cage. Perhaps because she does not consume any media, she was under the false belief that there were “riots” after the Martin shooting. She also described the Martin killing as “an unfortunate incident that happened.”

But the tape raises another question that should be debated in every trial advocacy class in America: What were the lawyers, especially the prosecutors, thinking when they seated her? Why didn’t prosecutors use one of their peremptory challenges to nix her? She’s contrarian, she raised serious ontological doubts about the nature of truth-seeking, and she was only ever truly animated on the subject of rescue birds…


We have several stories that got bumped because the Trayvon stories seemed pressing.

Among other things, at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the LASD’s jail building proposals will be presented….so stay tuned.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, media, race, race and class, racial justice, Youth at Risk | 8 Comments »

Mayor…City Attorney…City Controller…School Board – Some Help in Deciding

March 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

WitnessLA isn’t offering any endorsements at the moment.
(Okay, maybe one little endorsement. But we’ll get to in a minute.)

Instead, we have linked to some of the more interesting and informative articles, interviews, mini-debates and what not that we thought you might find helpful as you make your decisions:


Obviously, everyone knows in general what the Mayor does, and the City Council Members, and the City Attorney. But, past the generalities, a great many of us don’t have a really firm grasp on the details of who has control over what in Los Angeles.

With this in mind, LA Magazine has put together a handy GUIDE TO POWER IN LA that explains…well….everything (or nearly so.)

We highly recommend taking a look.


KCET has a great Who’s Funding Whom Database, which you can find here.

And here’s a rundown about how to get the most out of the database.


Warren Olney interviews the top 5 mayoral hopefuls—and the interviews are particularly good. Here’s the link, but scroll down, for each interview.

And for individual takes on the candidates:
KPCC’s Frank Stoltze looks at Eric Garcetti and asks if the candidate is tough enough to do what needs to be done as mayor.

Gene Maddeus writes about Wendy Greuel, whom he portrays as a down-to-earth, no-nonsense fix-it woman—with strong union support, namely by the DWP’s powerful workers union, IBEW Local 18—whose backing some voters find worrisome.

UPDATE: Greuel moved to counter that fear on Thursday when she told the Daily News that there would be no DWP raises if LA has a deficit.

Dakota Smith at the Daily News looks at Jan Perry and wonders if she’s too beholden to business groups.

Similarly the LA Times’ Jim Newton wonders if Eric Garcetti is too beholden to the teachers’ union.

In terms of endorsements, the Daily News thinks Wendy Greuel is strong and gutsy enough to take on “stubborn interests”—the unions and others—who “would make L.A. proud as the first woman to lead the nation’s second most populous city.”

The Los Angeles Times goes for Eric Garcetti, whom it says is the candidate with the most potential to “rise to the occasion…” and “the power to inspire.” “He could be just what Los Angeles needs.”


While we aren’t endorsing anyone, we do have a strong anti-endorsement. Here it is: ABC—anybody but Carmen. Incumbent Carmen Trutanich has good points, but the negatives greatly outweigh the positives. We went into more detail when Mr. Trutanich ran for District Attorney.

If you’d like a good one-stop-shopping destination that allows you to get a broad strokes idea of the three main candidates—Mike Fuerer, Greg Smith, and Carmen Trutanich—we recommend the on air debate, again, with Warren Olney.

We think it is fascinatingly character revealing for all three of the candidates. For some in a good way. For others, not so much.


Once more we refer you to the on-air debate between the candidates with Warren Olney on Which Way LA?

As for sorting out the candidates for voting purposes: LA City Counsel member, Dennis Zine, is the best known and, as such, has a long list of endorsements from unions and elected officials. However persons like former City Controller Laura Chick—and the LA Times, the Daily News, La Opinion, the Daily Breeze and others—are going for Ron Galperin.

Not endorsing, just sayin’…


For years, the teachers’ unions have poured gobs of money into the coffers of certain school board candidates whom they could then count on to vote the unions’ direction on any reform issue that the union didn’t like. And true to form, the unions’ presence is being felt in this year’s race too.

But the school board races that are up for a vote in Tuesday’s election have featured a new and muscular funding stream. The money comes from what is collectively known as the school reform movement—a coalition that does not think reform can take place if board members are forever hogtied by unions who put their own interests ahead of those of LA’s kids, with year upon year of demonstrably disastrous results. As a consequence, the the national reform movement has come up with its own big bucks, with some of the money even coming from outside the state. (Not surprisingly, the latter fact has caused controversy.)

Here’s what Education Week has on the matter.

So whom does one vote for in light of all this competing campaign funding?

Well, here’s what the Daily News has to say on the subject.

And here is the LA Times’ list of School Board endorsements.

(You will note both papers’ LAUSD board endorsements are exactly the same.)

The Daily News goes on to explain how it selected its three choices and why it thinks this school board election is of real importance:

What’s at stake is more than just three faces on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. The result could either confirm the slow move toward innovation and reform in the nation’s second-largest school district. Or it could reverse the course, destroying the few steps the district has taken in recent years to shake up the old, failing education structure.

For that reason, these races have attracted an astonishing amount of money – $4 million so far – as the unions and reform groups battle it out. How this election goes next week could well decide the fate of education reform in the city, state and nation.

That’s why we are strongly encouraging voters in the three districts - 2, 4, and 6 – to go to the polls and strike a victory for the students by choosing these three people:

Monica Garcia in District 2…Kate Anderson in District 4…Monica Ratcliff in District 6

We agree—most particularly about the choice of Kate Anderson. And, we don’t think the Daily News is overstating its case when it talks about how important this election is to LA’s educational future, and probably to the state’s.

So, yes, that’s an endorsement.

(Oh, and one more thing: Vote NO on Measure A.

NOTE: For more on LA’s schools, and education issues—including Tuesday’s board race—-start reading the lively, smart, and very tuned in LA School report.


Posted in City Attorney, City Budget, City Controller, Education, elections, LA city government, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

Mayoral Candidates Talk Neighborhood Safety, Cops, Gang Intervention & More

December 14th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

On Thursday night LA mayoral candidates allowed themselves to be grilled for nearly two hours on issues
of neighborhood safety and violence prevention by four LA journalists.

Three of the four main candidates—LA City Controller Wendy Greuel, LA City Councilmember, Jan Perry and attorney and former radio host, Kevin James—submitted to questions by KPCC’s Frank Stoltze, the LA Times’ Jim Newton, Pilar Marrero from La Opinion, Stanley Willford from Our Weekly, and Nicole Chang from Korea Daily, who posed her questions via SKYPE. (Warren Olney from KCRW was originally scheduled to attend, but had to bow out.)

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck gave opening remarks then tossed out the first topic of the night when he said that one of the most important issues for him was whether or not the candidates intended to continue to support GRYD, the city’s gang violence prevention and intervention program that is presently housed in the mayor’s office.

Moderator Frank Stoltze made the question one step more specific and asked if the candidates would keep at least the current funding for the GRYD program and maintain the job of heading GRYD as a deputy mayor position.

Wendy Greuel said YES and YES, and followed up by saying that she planned to try to talk existing GRYD head, Guillermo Cespedes, into staying. (Cespedes was in the audience.)

Jan Perry also said YES, and talked about the need to address the trauma faced by kids in the city’s most violence-haunted communities. Kevin James was another YES, but stayed with his theme of the night, which seemed to be “Yes, but…. those City Hall insiders are doing a dreadful job, and can’t balance the budget,” or words to that effect.

In addition, James said that he thought there should be less use of former gang members as gang interventionists, that he would bring in respected community members that kids could look up to and relate to.

At this, the cadres of gang interventionists and community activists in the audience began visibly frowning.

Eric Garcetti had a conflict that night, and so was a No Show but sent his answer to Beck’s and Stoltz’s questions through civil rights attorney, Connie Rice, of the Advancement Project, who related that Garcetti would keep GRYD but move it out of the mayor’s office and, instead, establish it as a commission.

Rice made it clear that she thought the commission idea was a lousy one. In response to her follow-up questioning, all the candidates dutifully thought the idea lousy too.

“This is not something for a commission filled by part time people who have other jobs,” said James, and everyone nodded.

(WLA agrees.)

Other questions ranged from how many LAPD officers each candidate would pledge to keep (Greuel went for the full 10,000 while everyone else hedged), what they thought about gang injunctions and the gang database, and how they would lower crime in Koreatown.

By night’s end, the consensus of many of the gang interventionists and other local activists in the room seemed to be that Perry best understood the concerns of the city’s most violence plagued communities, but that they also liked Greuel, and thought her capible, yet felt that she needed to show up at a few more crime scenes and meetings in the ‘hood to gain credibility. Most thought Kevin James seemed sincere, and had interesting opinions on some topics, but was clueless on others and probably didn’t have a chance anyway.

(Since Garcetti wasn’t there he didn’t factor into the reviews.)

All I spoke with said they appreciated the fact that the candidates had been willing to hang out for more than two hours while these topics of high concern got laid on the table.

The forum was sponsored by the Advancement Project, the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, Liberty Hill, the LAPPL, The Riordan Foundation, and a pile of others.


On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney General’s Task for on Children Exposed to Violence presented its sobering report Defending Childhood.

After the first of the year, we’ll be looking much further into what we ought to be taking away from the report’s findings.

In the meantime, California Endowment Pres. Robert Ross writes for the Huffington Post about the importance of what the report has discovered.

Here’s a clip:


….At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights took a hard look at school discipline policies and investigated how extreme rules using suspensions push students away from school and toward a life of crime. At the other end of the street, the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence released the findings of a year-long study, reporting on the latest research about the impact of trauma on children’s lives.

Taken together, the two issues sound an alarm for the ways our schools and neighborhoods push kids away from the things we all want and deserve — a good education, a safe neighborhood, and a chance at the American Dream. While all this may seem less immediate than the fiscal cliff, it is every bit as urgent.

Childhood exposure to violence is a national epidemic. Every year, two out of every three of our children — 46 million — can expect to have their lives touched by violence, crime, abuse, and psychological trauma this year. It’s not hard to figure out the negative effects on society. The Task Force on Children’s Exposure to Violence describes something we all intuitively know: that witnessing traumatic events disrupts our ability to function in a healthy way, make good decisions, and move forward in our lives. For kids, the impact of trauma is even more pronounced.

Children exposed to violence are less able to concentrate in class. Their brains are consumed with processing the toxic stress in their lives and are not free to process the important things of childhood, like academic learning and developing critical interpersonal and life management skills.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m still absorbing the wealth of information from Wednesday and Thursday’s California Wellness Foundation’s Violence Prevention Conference. More on that in the weeks to come.

Posted in City Controller, City Government, Gangs, LA City Council, LA city government, LAPD, law enforcement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Villaraigosa’s State of the City Speech Gambles on Education Reform

April 14th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

On Wednesday at approximately 5 p.m. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
gave his sixth state of the city speech. As anticipated, although AV talked about topics like the potential greening of LA, about the crime drop, and about filling more potholes, the speech’s centerpiece was about education reform, the one topic out of the list over which the mayor has exactly zip direct control.

Some of the potential candidates who hope to take his place after Villaraigosa terms out, tisk-tisked to LA times reporters about how AV should have instead addressed the city’s fiscal deficit, in that forming a workable city budget is a part of the LA mayor’s actual job description.

The critics made a fair point.…and yet….and yet…

In truth, Antonio did precisely the right thing with his speech. If we are to bounce back as a city and as a state nothing, and from there begin once again to thrive, nothing could possibly be more important than building on the fragile areas of growth and reform in the district, and blasting out of the road the calcified and obstructionist attitudes that have been so wrong-headed and ruinous to our schools and our kids for such a very long time.

Villaraigosa delivered the speech at Thomas Jefferson High, a school that six years ago—right after AV was first elected mayor—erupted in a series of huge and traumatizing riots on campus.

I was assigned to cover Jefferson’s riots for the LA Weekly, and so spent a lot of time at the school during the jittery days and weeks that followed.

In particular, I spent dozens of hours talking to teachers, administrators, kids, school police, parents, and others—all of whom were surprisingly eager to spill what they knew to somebody, anybody. They talked, not so much about the riots, but about a school that had a 31 percent graduation rate, where only 9% of Jeff’s students tested “proficient” in English, just over 1 % were proficient in math, and about the conditions on campus and at the district that made teaching and learning at Jefferson a discouraging daily swim upstream against an overwhelmingly strong current.

Worse, Jeff was merely one of many LAUSD high schools that had similarly ghastly stats and conditions.

It soon became evident that the so-called riots were not the story at all, but a big, bad signpost that pointed to the real story—which was the catastrophic state of LA County’s education system. The riots were the canary in the coal mine.

Yet, as bad as things were, at a district level, those in charge seemed too paralyzed to make any substantive changes. Instead they would hire a one more string of very high priced independent consultants, who delivered high priced reports that generally came to nothing.

Six years later, as Antonio points out, some heartening progress has been made in some pockets. But not anywhere close to enough progress.

Villaraigosa clearly hopes to shove the reform efforts into high gear before his mayoral term is up.

“This is a pivotal moment for our schools and our City,” the mayor said, and reminded the those assembled that we have a new superintendent of schools, John Deasy, whom he likened to “Bill Bratton with a ruler,” and newly elected union leadership that appears to want to turn over some kind of new leaf.

Then Villaraigosa got down to specifics about the changes he sees as essential.

JIn her dead-on column about the speech for the LA Weekly, Jill Stewart laid out the heart of AV’s message:

He called for turning LAUSD into a network of local, independently controlled campuses, allowing “open enrollment beyond traditional neighborhood boundaries” to create parental choice, and for “protecting and expanding the use of the parent trigger” to give parents the power to convert failing schools.

Finally, he issued the hottest news:

“The teacher contract expires in June,” Villaraigosa said. “With the stars aligned, we have to seize the opportunity. Let’s (devise) a new contract … Let’s stop dictating at the district level and let local schools make the decisions” on such things as staffing, funding and curriculum.

“Let’s compensate teachers for demonstrated effectiveness — not just [for their] years of service and course credits …. and do away with the last-hired, first-fired seniority system.”

He said to loud applause: “When more than 99% of district teachers receive the same ‘satisfactory’ evaluation, it serves nobody.”

Finally, he added: “I know that these proposals will raise some concern and spark controversy. I could hear some of the people [protesting] outside. As a former union organizer, I understand your fear. I stood with you then, and I’ll stand with you now. Change is hard.”

But he added: “Our time is now. The nation is watching. L.A. must take the lead.”

(Read the rest of Stewart’s column. It’s a good one—so far about the best thing I’ve read on the speech.)

“We’ve had our differences with the mayor…” said the LA Times said in its own editorial on Villaraigosa’s SOC speech.

Yes, well, haven’t we all.

But this time Antonio was right on the mark.

“We can fulfill the promise of public education by agreeing to a new contract with ourselves—a promise to put aside the concerns of a few adults in the interest of all children,” he said.

And he sounded like he meant it.

Here’s the full text of the speech.

Photo by Gary Friedman for the Los Angeles Times

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Education, LA city government, LAUSD | 6 Comments »

Homegirl Cafe Coming to LAX

September 21st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Although prospects had looked bleak for months, when four out of five of LAX’s wildly lucrative
food and beverage contracts were finally handed out on Monday afternoon— an unexpected beneficiary of the decision is Homeboy Industries’ popular and unique Homegirl Cafe.

In a decision that seems to have been complicated by more than the usual number of lobbyists, personal agendas, and multiple conflicts of interest (see stories byDavid Zahniser and Gene Maddaus for some of those specifics), the special five-person LA City Council panel known as the Board of Referred Powers decided (in a 4-1 vote) to award four of the five of LAX’s wildly lucrative food and beverage contracts and, at the same time, to throw out the bid by the celebrity-packed group that was originally the front-runner in the contract contest.

The fifth contract will likely be rebid in the near future and it is hoped that the whole five contract food and beverage package. (plus three additional airport vendor contracts) will be up for approval by the full city council in about a month.

(For some of the finer details on the contract squabbles, and the tortured road to Monday’s contract awards see the LA Times story, the Daily Breeze coverage, and the article in the LA WAVE.)

The Homegirl Cafe—one of Homeboy’s six businesses— is among the vendors included in the bid put forth by Miami-based Areas USA, which was originally figured to be a dark horse. When Areas USA was selected, that meant that Homegirl Cafe was too—along with other food purveyors like downtown Los Angeles steakhouse Engine Co. 28 and Culver City-based gastropub Ford’s Filling Station.

Although it is known for the fact that it trains and employs young women recovering from gang life and/or incarceration, Homegirl Cafe is also an excellent and uniquely LA food purveyor in its own right. (Homegirl describes its fare as “Latina flavors with a contemporary twist.” ) Its fully organic menu features delicate-flavored dishes designed by Chef Patricia Zarate using vegetables and herbs from its own organic garden and other local farms.

Father Greg Boyle was also among those who spoke to the panel at the meeting that concluded late Monday afternoon. When I saw him later on Monday night (at an unrelated gathering), he was extremely pleased, as would be expected, but still seemed a bit stunned by what, for Homeboy, is a very happy turn of events—yet well deserved in terms of the quality of the cafe itself.

The fifth and final contract was not awarded Monday after a winning bid involving some of LA’s best known chefs (Nancy Silverton, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken) was unexpectedly tossed out because of a possible conflict of interest that the LA city attorney’s office believed might trigger a court challenge and thus fatally delay the entire LAX project.

A clearly disappointed Silverton also spoke at the Monday’s meeting. “I want to warn you, If you don’t you’ll help us, the people of L.A. and the visitors to L.A. may be stuck with food choices and food quality that are currently available to them at every off-ramp on every freeway across America.”

(Well, not exactly. Nancy, we love you but you aren’t the only food game in town. Sorry.)

The group that includes Silverton et al, plus Boyle Heights’ la Serenata De Garibaldi and the local favorite Bertha’s Soul Food, is expected to rebid for the final contract.

(Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have Homegirl and some of our LA star chefs, La Serenata and Bertha’s Soul Food? )

In the meantime, it feels great to cheer Homegirl’s well-earned victory.

Posted in Homeboy Industries, LA City Council, LA city government | 5 Comments »

Follow the Gang Money, Part 2: The Interventionists – by Matt Fleischer

September 8th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: With 1,076 known gangs and 80,757 gang members in Los Angeles County (according to the LA Sheriff’s Department) LA is still the gang capital of the nation. To address the gang violence problem that has tens of thousands of our city’s children reporting that they are scared on their walk to school, Los Angeles has budgeted $26 million.

So, is our city using that pot of taxpayer dollars well and wisely? Are the programs it buys making our violence-haunted communities safer? Are they effective in helping kids-on-the-edge stay out of gangs? Do they offer tools and alternatives to those desperately seeking a route out of gang life?

These are some of the questions we asked with our two-part investigation: Follow the Gang Money, reported and written by Matt Fleischer (and copy edited by Craig Gaines).

Follow the Gang Money is the first effort to come out of the LA Justice Report, which was created through a partnership between WLA and Spot.Us.

In the course of his investigation, reporter Matt Fleischer found bright spots, to be sure. But he also found a city gang program mired in secrecy, plagued by bureaucratic bungling, and lacking in the kind of accountability that was repeatedly promised when all of LA’s gang dollars were transferred from the city council to the mayor’s office.

In Part 1, Matt looked at the city’s flawed gang prevention program and why it was systematically excluding many of LA’s kids who most needed its services.

Now he looks at the rest of the story with his exploration of the city’s gang intervention program.

In doing so, he finds a whole new set of bureaucratic screw ups that resulted in even more wasted evaluation money than the City Controller originally reported.

Even more troubling, he finds that the strategy in which the city has invested most of its intervention $$—touted as the model for the nation—is in fact a copy of a much criticized program that has been shown in multiple studies to be ineffective at best and, when replicated in one city, actually harmful.

You’ll find the details and more in Part 2 of Follow the Gang Money.


Is the city pouring its gang dollars into a strategy that won’t work?

by Matthew Fleischer

Jose Leon remembers the first time he saw a shootout in the streets of his Boyle Heights neighborhood. “I was 5 years old and staying at my uncle’s place. I looked out the window and saw this guy running down the middle of the street, shooting. I got scared.”

A squat, powerful man with a shaved head, tattoos peeking out of his sleeves and eyes that read much older than his 21 years, Jose’s life in Boyle Heights got, if anything, more traumatic as the years passed until it read like a blueprint for gang membership by the time he was an adolescent.

“I had aunts and uncles who used to slang [sell drugs]. They were from the old neighborhood—Soto Street.”

As Jose got older, the shootings in his neighborhood became a routine part of his day, and fear of street life turned to fascination. He joined a tagging crew when he was 11 and joined a full-fledged street gang shortly thereafter. He was stabbed at age 14 when a rival crew ambushed him at Roosevelt High School.

“I got stuck in the stomach,” he says. “Spent a few days in the hospital.”

When Jose graduated from Roosevelt in 2006, he thought about getting out of gang life. But he was unsure how to replace the camaraderie and the income, frankly, that the gang world provided. He tried to find a job, but with no luck: By that time, Jose had a criminal record and no one wanted to take the risk in hiring him.

So he continued to sell drugs to get by when things were lean.

Then, two years ago, Jose saw a road out when he began working with Johnny Godines, a local gang intervention worker with the East LA nonprofit Soledad Enrichment Action (SEA). Jose had met Godines back in high school. He was an old-timer who had turned his life around and was now helping kids in the schools and on the streets. Godines knew the game, knew all Jose was going through, and had kept an eye out for him. But more importantly, he was a friend and mentor who constantly reminded Jose there were better things in life than what gangs had to offer.

“Johnny and me had some really good conversations. He said things that made me start thinking about me.”

Nearly eight months ago, thanks to his relationship with Godines, Jose landed a job in SEA’s human resources department. Now he works 8:30 to 5 to support his infant son and says he has no desire to return to gang life. By all accounts, Jose’s is a true gang-intervention success story—the kind that the city would seemingly want to see replicated with other troubled youth across the city.

But even though SEA is the largest organization within the Gang Reduction and Youth Development network (it runs one-third of the GRYD’s 12 neighborhood zones) stories like Jose’s are rare within the city-run program. Therapy, education, tattoo removal, and especially job training and placement—the kinds of things that are essential in helping gang members to leave the life for good—are not the priorities of the roughly $7 million intervention side of the $26 million program. (GRYD also has a prevention component [see Part 1 of this series].) Instead, the city’s intervention focus is on something called “proactive peacemaking,” otherwise known as hardcore street intervention.

GRYD’s intervention model is based on Chicago’s “CeaseFire” program, and it works like this: Local men and women–often former gang members who still have clout on the streets–are assigned to the GRYD neighborhood zone they are most familiar with, and instructed to sniff out threats of retributive violence between gang members and to try to broker truces between rival gangs. Intervention workers serve as both liaisons between gangs—a reliable means of transmitting messages between rivals—and sources of street expertise for the Los Angeles Police Department, with whom they have weekly meetings to discuss hotspots and crime trends and are supposed to contact if a violent showdown seems imminent.

GRYD has codified this method of intervention by investing $200,000 per year in the Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy (LAVITA), which is attempting to train and professionalize street intervention workers and standardize their approach in the field.

“Our mission is not to break up a gang,” says Susan Lee, the Advancement Project’s director of urban peace, who oversees LAVITA. “Our mission is to reduce violence. We are about peacemaking.”

Advancement Project co-director and civil rights attorney Connie Rice explains the mission in more detail: “Hardcore police suppression has not reduced gang influence in our city. Gangs saturate the physical spaces of our neighborhoods: parks, schools, hospitals. We’ve let this problem get to the point where we need people with the street credibility to negotiate with gangs. Police can’t do it. Academics can’t do it. Politicians can’t do it. I can’t do it. These guys can.”

LAPD agrees, and though initially skeptical of street interventionists, they have come around to viewing these men and women as a useful component of violence reduction. “Without question we call on these guys,” says Northeast LAPD Captain Bill Murphy. “It’s my experience they know what’s going on and they provide options for how to deal with various situations. You can’t just arrest your way out of a problem.”

But while the idea of training former gang members to roam their old stomping grounds and talk their homies into forgoing violence has an undeniable narrative sexiness, and the backing of the LAPD, it’s an open question whether this strategy actually has a measurable impact. There is much evidence to suggest that, absent other services and active community involvement, “proactive peacemaking” produces no long-term effect, and in certain instances can even make things worse. In a 2010 RAND study of Pittsburgh’s GRYD-like street intervention program, RAND researcher Jeremy Wilson theorizes “that the presence of outreach workers increased the cohesion of gangs, making some groups more organized, in turn leading to increased violence.”

The real $26 million question facing Los Angeles is why are we basing a gang-reduction strategy on a model that has no proven long-term results?


On a hot, muggy day in mid-May, Father Greg Boyle enters the front door of Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles to find several hundred current and former gang members staring him in the face.

“Happy birthday,” the entire room yells in unison before launching into song—once in English and once in Spanish.

Boyle professes surprise, but the secret birthday party has become an annual rite of spring at Homeboy Industries, America’s largest gang-intervention program. Boyle’s efforts have helped thousands of kids escape gang life and have earned him a national reputation. This year, however, while cake is passed around and conversation flows, there’s somber reality lying just beneath the surface of the celebratory mood. Virtually all of its more than 427 employees have just been laid off, and the future of the program is in serious doubt. News of Homeboy’s financial troubles have gone national—yet the program is nowhere near to raising the $5 million it needs to continue to run its programs. Its fate, and the fate of all those celebrating, is a giant question mark.

The potential catastrophic cuts in Homeboy’s services come at an especially crucial time since, with unemployment still in double digits, former gang members needing jobs are coming to them for help in greater numbers than ever. Homeboy, as well as organizations like the Toberman Neighborhood Center in San Pedro, practice a different type of intervention from the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development network—a services-based model that focuses on turning gang members into productive members of society instead of the tourniquet approach of asking gang members not to shoot at each other.

“We don’t deal with gangs, we deal with gang members,” says Boyle.

The logic behind the approach is similar to the CIA’s refusal to negotiate with terrorist organizations—although Boyle certainly wouldn’t put it in those terms. Instead of dealing with the gangs themselves, Homeboy serves gang members, plus men and women freshly out of prison and on parole, who want to turn their lives around. There are tens of thousands in each category, 12,000 of whom walk through the doors of Homeboy Industries every year looking to reinvent their lives.

Homeboy Industries offers various types of job training and placement programs. Its solar panel installation training program in partnership with East L.A. Skills Center has a long waiting list. Homeboy also has its own businesses, which employ 150 to 200 former gang members: Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery, Homeboy Merchandise, Homeboy Maintenance and the Homegirl Café. In addition, the program offers tattoo removal, GED prep, computer training, substance abuse counseling, legal advice, reentry services for parolees and juvenile probationers, comprehensive mental health and family counseling.

In other words, Homeboy Industries offers the basic services that a gang member most needs to send his or her life in a productive direction.

Boyle admits he is not a big fan of the hardcore street intervention method. Before developing Homeboy, Boyle says he practiced street intervention for nearly a decade, brokering truces, racing late at night between warring gangs to calm violent situations, chasing down individual kids who he knew were at risk of shooting. But by the mid-1990s he concluded that it was not an effective strategy. He also says sending in former gang members to do street intervention keeps them bound to the gang milieu.

“You wouldn’t send a recovering alcoholic into a bar to recruit for AA,” says Boyle. “It’s the same principle here. People have to want to leave this life behind.”

But is there evidence that the services-based model works any better?

As it turns out, there is. Homeboy Industries reports a 70 percent retention rate, which is quite high given that 30 percent is considered good among program evaluators. (Alcoholics Anonymous has a 10 percent retention rate.)“And out of the 30 percent who drop out [of the Homeboy programs],” says Mona Hobson, Homeboy’s director of development, 10 percent to 15 percent return “when they’re ready to embrace the program.”

Homeboy’s individual programs show similarly upbeat results. For instance, Liz Miller of the University of California, Davis, studied 502 clients of Homeboy’s Mental Health Education and Treatment Assistance Service, and found a dive in “depressive symptoms” from 64 percent to 26 percent during a three-month period.

Now Homeboy is being evaluated even more rigorously. UCLA researchers are two years into a five-year longitudinal study of the program’s effectiveness. The research regarding Homeboy’s success in transforming its clients’ mental and behavioral health isn’t final, but lead researcher Jorja Leap, an adjunct associate professor at UCLA’s Department of Social Welfare, says: “Homeboy is off the chart at stemming the tide of reincarceration. Simply in terms of cost effectiveness, services at Homeboy cost about $40,000 per person per year. It costs upward of $120,000 a year to put a person through the criminal justice system. And the preliminary evaluation outcomes [at Homeboy] are remarkable.”

Homeboy isn’t the only model in Los Angeles that has shown proven results. Leap also spent two years evaluating the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute (PCITI), run by longtime interventionist Aquil Basheer, who’s been doing this type of work since 1969, and found promising results. Basheer’s training methods yielded a 95 percent retention rate.

Interestingly, unlike Homeboy, Basheer’s model incorporates hardcore street intervention into its services-based approach. “I applaud the city and anyone out there trying to save lives,” says Basheer. “But if gang intervention is an octopus, hardcore street intervention is just one tentacle.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Gangs, LA city government, LAPD, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 21 Comments »

FOLLOW THE GANG MONEY: Part 1 – by Matthew Fleischer

August 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: The article below is Part One of WitnessLA’s two-part investigation into how the city of Los Angeles spends its $26 million per year in gang violence reduction dollars.

This investigation was reported and written by Matt Fleischer (and copy edited by Craig Gaines). It is the first effort to come out of the LA Justice Report, which was created through a partnership between WLA and Spot.Us.

You’ll find that both sections of this series are quite critical of multiple aspects the gang programs that have operated under the umbrella of the mayor’s office for the past two years—and with good reason. We went to great lengths to get documents and information that the mayor’s people made clear they did not want us to have. Much of what Matt found at the conclusion of his digging and reporting is, we believe, cause for concern–and rigorous rethinking.

However, just to be clear: our criticism does not suggest for a minute that the $26 million in gang dollars is not worth spending. All that money and more is needed to address the fact that hundreds of thousands of LA kids feel unsafe walking to school because of gang violence. But it is essential—particularly in these budget strapped times—that those much-needed funds are spent in ways that are measurably effective in addressing the problems for which they were allocated.

To that end, we give you Part One of Follow the Gang Money. We’ll have Part Two in a couple of weeks.

Then in September, we’ll have a wrap-up that looks at where we go from here.


Are LA’s Gang Prevention Strategies Excluding the Kids Who Most Need Our Help?
by Matthew Fleischer

On a hot day in early May, nearly 200 gang-reduction experts
under the umbrella of the city of Los Angeles’ Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, or GRYD, gathered in the LA City Council chambers to fight for their jobs. There were too many intervention workers, some of them former gang members with extravagant tattoos and shaved heads, to cram into the rows of seats in the City Council chambers, so they spilled into the hallways instead, greeting each other fondly and chatting nervously about their fates. With the city facing a $212 million budget shortfall, the City Council was looking to do some serious fiscal trimming, and GRYD’s $26 million in operating funds were slated for the shears.

As the council meeting came to order and the public comment period began, these men and women stepped to the microphone at the center front of the chambers and told stories of bullets whizzing, children dying and the great risks they took in their daily lives to keep their communities safe. In between their testimonies, a sprinkling of tweedy academic types from the administrative ranks of these same gang-reduction programs came forward to bolster the street workers’ pleas with facts and figures.

No money should be slashed from GRYD, each of them said, in one impassioned way or another. Despite its budget woes, this is one program cut Los Angeles cannot afford.

“We’re saving lives,” was the common refrain.

Last to speak, and most eloquent, was civil rights attorney and gang intervention expert Connie Rice, whose 2007 Advancement Project report, “A Call to Action,” was part of what triggered the formation of GRYD in the first place. More recently, Rice and her Advancement Project have been tapped to run the city’s Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy (LAVITA)—which is attempting to train and professionalize gang intervention workers. “We are celebrating low crime, but in the hot zones, kids still dodge bullets,” said Rice. “These [gang workers] are the people who keep the kids safe. The GRYD office is absolutely essential. We just spent $7 million for a reptile enclosure. I’m happy for Reggie [the alligator], but we need to save our kids first.”

Although some of the city council members fully intended to snip GRYD’s funds, Rice made her pitch with the knowledge that the program enjoys the unequivocal backing of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Ever since his school reform efforts sputtered and stalled, Villaraigosa has taken to GRYD as his new flagship policy effort. He routinely touts it as “among the most innovative in the U.S.,” and has the habit of making lofty claims about GRYD’s impact: “The program has reclaimed our city for our citizens.”

Within days of the City Council hearing, the mayor, Connie Rice and the rest of the GRYD network got their way: GRYD would receive full funding for another year, which in 2009-10 amounted to $26 million, $18.5 million of which came directly from LA’s general fund. In the following weeks, virtually every other program in the city would be cut amid LA’s budget crunch—the library system, city attorney’s office and even the LAPD’s counterterrorism task force among them. GRYD was among the few allowed to remain intact.

It was a major political victory for Villaraigosa and Gang Reduction and Youth Development.

The mayor reacted to the news with a celebratory tweet: “Our GRYD programs WORK—gang crime is way down and more kids have a way out of the gang life.”

A two-month investigation by the LA Justice Report, however, has revealed that the mayor and the City Council’s confidence in GRYD’s central programs isn’t grounded in quantifiable facts. In truth, no one knows if, how well or how poorly GRYD is working—not the mayor, not the police, not GRYD itself.

Power and accountability have been consolidated in the mayor’s office, but there is still no way of determining whether the program is effective. And there are many indications that methodological errors have been made that have cost—and continue to cost—the city millions of dollars.

A recent audit by LA City Controller Wendy Greuel stated that, after nearly two years, GRYD, much like LA Bridges, still has no adequate evaluation of its effectiveness, or lack thereof—despite the city’s spending $525,000 (with another $375,000 soon to be paid out) for an assessment report from the Urban Institute (UI).

“We had years of a feel-good program under LA Bridges,” Greuel says. “Now we’ve spent more than $500,000 on a tool to see what’s working, but we still don’t have that yet.

“Transparency is the biggest problem we face.”

But while Greuel placed most of the blame on the irritatingly secretive assessment conducted by the UI, the Justice Report found the real failings to be not with the UI researchers’ evaluation of the GRYD programs, but with the programs themselves. Though it took weeks and multiple California Public Records Act requests, we acquired a copy of the UI’s 60-page evaluation and found it most revealing. After speaking with the UI head evaluator and two independent evaluation experts, we have learned that UI had a perfectly acceptable methodology in place. GRYD, however, has been hampered by serious bureaucratic blunders, prime among them poorly negotiated contracts that resulted in the loss of a year of data.

But beyond pure evaluation and data-collection screw-ups—of which there have been plenty—the Justice Report discovered gang prevention programs that may be systematically excluding many of the kids that most need their help and intervention programs that are based on a model that has little or no proven success. Further, the programs may fail to emphasize the most basic services that have been shown to help the men and women in LA’s most violent, troubled neighborhoods leave gang life behind.

As with many city and county problems, the situation is complex, so bear with us. Policy analysis can be wonky at times. But this is no academic exercise. LA is the gang capital of America, and the stakes of the gang-reduction debate are measured in blood.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Gangs, LA City Council, LA city government, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 12 Comments »

Follow the Gang Money: The Controller’s Report

July 27th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday, City Controller Wendy Greuel released her audit
of the effectiveness of the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development programs—aka GRYD. (The report follows-up on former Controller Laura Chick’s 2008 report.)

Overall Ms. Greuel said that the programs had made a lot of progress and, in effect, laid down a promising foundation on which future progress may be built.

Her main criticism was that the city had spent $525,000 on an evaluation of the programs (with the cost of the ongoing eval rising as I type), but had gotten no real evaluation for that half million bucks plus.

As you will see when we begin our Follow-the-Gang-Money stories, we agree completely with Controller Gruel about the not getting much for the evaluation $$$.

But we have found that the problem goes a bit deeper. We have read the Urban Institute’s 60-page evaluation report very carefully.

And, yes, surely the controller is right: It is beyond maddening to find that, nearly 2-years in, we have no practical assessment of the city’s gang programs—particularly after all the promises made that, once the gang money was moved under the mayor’s umbrella, Priority One would be the twinned values of transparency and accountability.

However after a very thorough examination, we have found that the larger problem is not with the Urban Institute evaluators, who seem quite competent and professional. It is with the programs. The Urban Institute delivered a 60-page, $525 million NON-evaluation because—-there is not a whole lot to evaluate.

Details to come soon.

So stay tuned.

(NOTE: I’m still ensconced in a cabin on river in West Glacier, Montana, with a (gasp) dial up connection to the Web. This means the 24-hour-news cycle has slowed down to something like 72 hours. But, Matt Fleischer and I are on top of this gang money issue—among others. And there will be a lot of new stuff when I return—and likely sooner.)

Here’s the LA Times’ report on the Report.

NOTE # 2: The photo isn’t of the river in back of our house, but of nearby Lake McDonald.

Posted in Gangs, LA city government | 21 Comments »

The 1st LA Justice Report is Funded: Story Coming in August

July 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Thanks to 88 fantastic people,
the first LA Justice Report story is fully funded.


This is a very, very good thing—particularly because reporter Matt Fleischer has been hard at work on the story for over a month.

The LA Justice Report, as you may or may not remember, is a partnership between WitnessLA and Spot.Us. It uses the Spot.Us wonderfully cool “crowd-funding” model to support social justice-oriented investigative journalism in LA.

The partnership’s first project is called Follow the Gang money, and it will look at how the city of Los Angeles is spending it’s $26 million of gang violence reduction money, which is dedicated to gang prevention and intervention. That $26 million is one of the very few city budgets that was not cut this past budget slashing season.

Matt has done incredible reporting, in several cases employing the excellent tool known as the Public Records Act to get the information that the mayor’s office and others were a bit…um…slow…to fork over.

Now, we have the answers.

Matt’s resulting story series will be published here in the 3rd week of August—(In other words, a few days after WLA and I are back from vacation).

What Matt has learned will, I promise, surprise, interest and likely infuriate you.

But here’s the thing: Los Angeles is our city, and we have the right to know how our money is spent on such essential issues. If the information is withheld, we have the duty to acquire it.

So we have done just that.

Thank you to all of you who have thus far been a part of our collective endeavor.

And for those of you who have not donated or acquired credits to donate: don’t worry, there will be other opportunities ahead. Trust me.

In the meantime, stay tuned. An important LA story awaits you.

Posted in Gangs, LA city government, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | No Comments »

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