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County to add probation officers to public schools [UPDATED]

March 27, 2009 |  1:21 pm

To combat gangs and prevent teenagers from being detained in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles County officials this morning announced they would station more juvenile probation officers at local public schools.

Probation Chief Robert Taylor and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy appeared at the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley in Pacoima this morning to announce they were adding three new high schools and a middle school in the area to the School-Based Supervision program.

“The younger we can get them, the easier it is to mold them and channel them in a positive direction,” Yaroslavsky said.

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Updated, 2:30 p.m.: Adding the four schools will cost $573,000 a year -- for the four probation officers, clerical staff and equipment, officials said.

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Taylor noted that more than 3,300 youths are in detention at the county’s 22 juvenile halls and camps.

“In order to reduce that, you have to get to them before they’re in custody,” Taylor said. “We know you can’t just treat the youth -- you have to treat the family as a whole.”

The new schools are Birmingham Senior High in Van Nuys, John F. Kennedy High in Granada Hills, Panorama High in Panorama City and Charles MacLay Middle School in Pacoima.

The program, which serves youth ages 13 to 18 in and out of probation, has placed probation officers at 90 high schools and 30 middle schools countywide since 2000, said a program director, Paul Vinetz.

School-based probation officers supervise youths on probation but also reach out to families in dealing with truancy and gang prevention, Vinetz said.

“We’re enhancing the presence in the Valley because of the increase in gangs around Pacoima,” Vinetz said at the meeting. “Just this morning we saw some gang graffiti near here, crossing each other out. Our campuses are safe havens.”

Although Los Angeles police have seen crime decrease in the Valley in recent years, about 16 gangs still operate in the area and one of the best ways to combat them is by reaching youths before they become involved, said Valley-based police Capt. Joe Curreri.

Curreri credited the probation program and others with reducing gang crimes in the area. Community leaders praised the program, saying the probation program has made an effort to include them. The Rev. John Lasseigne of Mary Immaculate Church in Pacoima said he sees the impact of local gangs firsthand, from gang members in his youth ministry to gang funerals.

“We endorse this approach,” Lasseigne said. “Any solution to gang violence has to address the family, the school and the home.”

Earlier this year, supervisors approved a new countywide anti-gang plan that is targeting four communities with added resources, including Pacoima. Curreri said law enforcement officials in the area had already met with community groups to discuss that plan.

-- Molly Hennesy-Fiske