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L.A. officials set to announce expanded anti-gang Summer Night Lights program

June 24, 2011 |  8:00 am

Getprev This summer, nights in Los Angeles will be a little brighter than in years past.

At a news conference on Friday, officials will announce the expansion of the Summer Night Lights program, which keeps parks in gang-plagued communities open during the late evening, when most violent crimes occur.

The lights will now stay on until midnight, four days a week, at 32 sites across the city --  eight more than last year. The program also provides meals, mentoring and activities including skateboarding, art classes, domino tournaments and square dancing.

The idea “is to keep every single person in the community engaged,” said Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes, who runs the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.

“These neighborhoods will choose this over body bags any time.”

The program's growth is an anomaly in Los Angeles, where many city services have been scaled back in recent years. Earlier this year, lawmakers voted for a 10% reduction in homelessness programs and a more than 6% cut in graffiti removal programs to help close a $336 million budget shortfall.

Summer Night Lights was launched in 2008 at eight locations in several of the most violent pockets of the city. Gang intervention workers were assigned to each site -- seven parks and one public housing project -- to ensure ceasefires between rival factions.

The program has expanded every year since, thanks to millions of dollars of private funding and statistics that point to its success. According to police data, serious gang-related crime fell 40% in the neighborhoods surrounding the program’s sites.

This year, private donors will contribute about $3.1 million to the program, according to a spokeswoman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. An additional $3.1 million will be paid with federal grants and money from the city’s general fund and Housing Authority.

The eight new sites for Summer Night Lights, which include parks in Wilmington, El Sereno and Sun Valley, were chosen based on crime statistics, Cespedes said.

The program starts July 6 and runs through Labor Day, a period when the weather is warm, kids are out of school and crime rates typically spike.

Last year, city residents made about 710,000 visits to the program’s sites. Those visitors, Cespedes said, were both people trying to escape crime and people who would otherwise be perpetuating it.

“We want to reach people who are potentially victimized, and the potential victimizers,” he said.


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-- Kath Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times