Lessons in building a common fact base with the Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office in Los Angeles

blogimage_GRYDFrom the Intersector Project Case Library: Reducing Gang Violence and Providing Youth Development in Los Angeles

After spending $25 billion over 30 years fighting a “war on gangs,” gang participation and violence in Los Angeles had mushroomed. In 2007, Los Angeles had more than 700 individual gangs with 40,000 members; nearly 75 percent of all youth gang homicides in the state of California occurred in Los Angeles County. In response to the crisis, Constance (Connie) Rice, then Co-Director of the Advancement Project — a public policy change organization focused on civil rights issues — spearheaded the development of a 108-page report providing a framework for how the city should approach gang reduction.

The assessment, A Call to Action: A Case for a Comprehensive Solution to LA’s Gang Violence Epidemic, included input from subject matter experts and ultimately prompted the creation of the Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) Office. This collaborative program implements the City’s comprehensive, community-building approach to gangs where police officers work hand-in-hand with residents to clean up neighborhoods and prevent violence. Seven years after the initial report, GRYD continues to discourage gang participation by offering productive alternatives to gang culture, resulting in a significant drop in gang violence in target neighborhoods across Los Angeles.

While drafting A Call to Action, experts “couldn’t even agree on the definition of ‘gang.’” Once empowered by the City to lead creation of the report, Connie assembled a team of 47 subject matter experts from government, business, and non-profit organizations who had expertise in urban education, government structure, gang prevention, funding analysis, violence against women, and community development. This group conducted hundreds of hours of research into the many causes and outcomes of gang violence, work that was detailed in their 108-page report that levied more than 100 recommendations for action on Los Angeles. Connie appointed teams to conduct community forums that engaged residents and leaders in neighborhoods most impacted by gang violence, resulting in “communal intelligence” to ensure that the report’s recommendations would be relevant and successful.

This is a process The Intersector Project Toolkit refers to as Build a Common Fact Base, consensus among collaboration partners as to what facts relating to the issue are most relevant. Collaboration partners and community members may have biases, sector-specific or otherwise, that influence their determination of what facts are relevant to the issue at hand, of what “the problem” really is. For example, a non-profit sector partner may contend that facts related to accessibility are most relevant to guiding the collaboration’s understanding of the issue, while a business sector partner may argue that facts related to operational efficiency are most relevant. Because agreement on a common fact base is critical to refining the collaboration’s understanding of the issue and honing the collaboration’s strategy, the collaboration should facilitate a process through which partners arrive at consensus on what facts are relevant.

A year after the Advancement Project won the contract to create A Call to Action, the GRYD Office was created to oversee implementation of the report’s recommendations. The office now oversees scores of contractors and violence prevention programs like an annual gun buy-back and Summer Night Lights (SNL), a public-private partnership that keeps 32 city parks open late with special community programming during summer months. In 2013, SNL was attended by 848,796 citizens, created jobs for 352 at-risk youth, and led to drops across all GRYD zones in serious gang-related crimes (34.4 percent), gang-related homicides (9.1 percent), shots fired (42.8 percent), victims shot (39.7 percent) and aggravated assaults (33.8 percent) through early August for all SNL locations combined. Since 2007:

  • Los Angeles followed the report’s recommendation to address gang culture using a model similar to those used to fight public health epidemics: targeting programs and budget in the most afflicted neighborhoods to improve conditions and stop violence from spreading. Los Angeles now focuses its gang reduction efforts in the 12 most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the city.
  • GRYD has helped shift LA’s gang response tactics toward a focus on prevention, rather than suppression, with law enforcement working to build relationships with the community, GRYD workers developing programs like Summer Night Lights that bring residents together, and partnerships with gang intervention experts who help defuse crisis situations after gang violence.
  • Communities where GRYD operates have seen a 50 percent higher reduction in homicide rates than the rest of Los Angeles and a nearly 30 percent drop in gang-related violence. By 2010, the neighborhoods served by the GRYD Office experienced a 10.7 percent drop in gang-related crime and GRYD neighborhoods have seen a more than 42.4 percent reduction in shots fired.
  • The Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Academy has trained more than 2,400 gang interventionists and 600 police officers to work together to reduce violence.
  • Based on its success with GRYD, Los Angeles partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in October 2012 to help reduce gang violence throughout the Western Hemisphere. Los Angeles advises on regional gang programming, shares best practices, and collaborates on initiatives for at-risk youth.