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Villaraigosa announces creation of anti-gang academy

January 7, 2010 |  2:20 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today announced the creation of a city anti-gang academy to train and license intervention workers.

The crucial component of L.A.’s anti-gang strategy was delayed for months because of conflicting visions for the school. The academy will be run by the Advancement Project, a legal advocacy, civil rights and public policy group, and funded in its inaugural year with $200,000 in federal grants.

The city-sponsored academy will train all anti-gang workers involved with Villaraigosa’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, which oversees $20 million in annual intervention and prevention contracts.

The anti-gang intervention workers, many of whom are former gang members, respond during gang shootings and other conflicts to prevent retaliation shootings and contain conflicts before they blow up into full-fledged gang wars.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said gang prevention and intervention programs, combined with police enforcement, are an essential part of the city’s success in driving down violent crime to levels not seen in decades. L.A. has an estimated 40,000 gang members and has been blamed for exporting gangs and gang violence throughout the nation.

“We have exported the problem for decades. Now it’s time we exported the solution,’’ Beck said during a late-morning news conference.

Villaraigosa said the academy would be the first of its kind in the nation. Students will be subjected to extensive background checks and screening to prevent active gang members from entering the program, he said. Given the sway of street gangs, there is “no guarantee’’ that a few intervention workers won’t fall back into the gang life, Villaraigosa said.

But the mayor said he is committed to both the city’s anti-gang strategy and the academy, because “it works." The city is still considering sites for the academy, which is set to open in March.

The program will begin with a "Basic 101" course for entry-level interventionists, followed by a series of advanced, 20-hour courses. One, for instance, would teach them how to proceed in a hospital after a shooting.

The city’s original plan was to combine components of two existing intervention programs, one run by the Advancement Project, the other, the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute. That effort disintegrated, however, because of philosophical differences.

The Advancement Project focused mostly on a theoretical and historical understanding of gangs, and students were trained to make a quiet impact by developing relationships in the community and avoid violent situations.

The other school focused more on on-the-spot situations, such as how to remove someone from an angry crowd and respond when a gunman was on the loose. The city ultimately put the contract up for bid and selected the Advancement Project to run the academy.

-- Phil Willon at City Hall