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L.A. gang prevention program makes progress but lacks oversight [Updated]

July 27, 2010 | 10:59 am

Antigang programs in the city of Los Angeles have made progress since being centralized two years ago, but troubles persist in determining whether money is being spent effectively, according to an audit released Tuesday.

The mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development has failed to evaluate its efforts, making it impossible to measure its success, the audit states. The Urban Institute was paid $525,000 to evaluate the program's effectiveness but after a year has provided no results, according to City Controller Wendy Greuel’s office.

“This is unacceptable,” Greuel wrote in a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the city attorney and City Council members.

Tuesday's report was a follow-up to a 2008 audit by then-Controller Laura Chick that assailed city anti-gang initiatives for spending millions on unproven programs and scattering oversight among more than a dozen departments.

Villaraigosa's office in July 2008 consolidated the programs into the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, which has followed a three-pronged philosophy of gang intervention, prevention and suppression.

Since then, the office has made substantial progress in carrying out the controllers’ recommendations and has laid a strong foundation for a comprehensive antigang strategy, according to the audit.

The office, which has an $18.5 million budget, has made strides by increasing its staff from 22 to 37 and strengthening its collaboration with county agencies and the Los Angeles Unified School District, the audit notes.

However, zoned advisory committees lack structure and an organized purpose, and a cabinet of government agencies the office created to leverage gang prevention resources seems to lack direction and follow-through, according to the audit.

Last year, a City Council committee report said Los Angeles should create a standalone department of gang prevention and intervention instead of relying on the mayor's office to address the root causes of gang violence.

[Updated at 2:06 p.m.: “There has been a lot of progress, but all of our efforts are futile if we can't measure the success of these programs,” Greuel said.

Guillermo Cespedes, director of the antigang office, said the Urban Institute will issue an initial report next month and complete evaluations of the program’s effectiveness in the 12 gang-plagued neighborhoods it targets within the coming year.

He credited the program with helping reduce crime in those zones by nearly 11% in the past year.

“We have made tremendous strides and yes, we do have to make improvements,” he said. “But there has not been an evaluation of this size with this population before, so there are likely to be snags.”]

-- Tony Barboza