Attorney General Eric Holder Discusses Gang Prevention With California City Leaders

May 17, 2010
by Michael Karpman

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder discussed the importance of partnerships to reduce gang violence with more than 100 California mayors, police chiefs and other community leaders at a meeting of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network held last week in Sacramento.

The 13 cities participating in the network include Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, Salinas, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San José, Santa Rosa and Stockton. Sponsored by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the network has brought together high-level, cross-sector teams from these cities since 2007 to identify effective gang prevention strategies.

"The mayors, police chiefs, law enforcement officers, service providers, researchers, educators and donors in this room are innovators in the administration of justice," said Holder. "I am grateful to count each of you as partners. You have provided the Justice Department with valuable insights from the front lines. You have told us what works, what doesn't and what we must do to enhance public safety. And, as you've created new programs and field-tested new strategies, you've shown that, despite budget and infrastructure challenges, solutions are possible.

"In just three years, this network has made meaningful, measurable progress in addressing gang activity and community violence," Holder continued. "Each city in this network has developed and implemented a comprehensive strategy. And many have seen crime rates fall."

Holder echoed one of the central lessons that has emerged from the network's cross-city peer learning activities: municipal leaders must take a balanced approach that goes beyond gang suppression and enforcement.

"Law enforcement can't do it alone," said Holder. "We can't arrest our way out of this problem. Achieving the progress we need to make demands that our enforcement efforts are complemented by strong prevention, education and intervention initiatives. Putting gangs out of business will take ... unprecedented, community-wide cooperation."

Holder went on to praise innovative programs developed by some of the network cities. "We need to find ways to help young people resist the allure of gangs through programs like Ceasefire, Peacekeepers and Youth Corps," Holder said. "And we need more of the citywide task forces that have been so successful in San José, Santa Rosa and other cities. We also need more programs like Summer Night Lights, which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa established in Los Angeles, [where] they're literally turning the lights on in parks where crimes often occur and offering recreational, educational and artistic activities."

Holder also highlighted the importance of using data to target "hot spots" of criminal activity, the benefits of engaging nontraditional crime fighters such as public health officials and faith-based groups and the need to focus greater attention on childhood exposure to violence. A recent Justice Department study found that more than 60 percent of children have been exposed to crime, violence or abuse.

Funding Comprehensive Local Plans

In welcoming the network's 13 city teams to the state capital, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson underscored the importance of their work.

"Our job is to disrupt the cycle of cradle-to-prison and instead develop a cradle-to-career pipeline," said Johnson.

With leadership from mayors and police chiefs, each team has pledged to develop and implement a comprehensive gang reduction plan that blends prevention, intervention and enforcement strategies rooted in evidence-based practice.

However, efforts to confront local gang problems have run up against severe budget constraints. Many of the network teams have sought to address this challenge creatively by piecing together a blend of federal, state, local and private funding sources targeted toward specific needs, such as mentoring or community development.

Last week's meeting offered an opportunity to highlight federal and state policy changes that can support city efforts. One of the network's primary recommendations is to make funding streams more flexible in supporting comprehensive local gang prevention plans.

Recently, the network helped secure passage of a resolution by the California Assembly urging the federal government to give priority funding consideration to cities exhibiting comprehensive planning, cross-system partnerships and data-driven tracking of progress toward clear goals and objectives. The resolution calls for flexible (rather than siloed) federal funding to fill gaps and cover insufficiently supported components of local plans.

For instance, many network teams are currently using state CalGRIP (California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention) funds disbursed by Gov. Schwarzenegger's Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy to strengthen their gang prevention work. A few cities, including Santa Rosa, San Bernardino and Oakland, draw upon local, voter-approved sales taxes dedicated toward violence prevention.

During his remarks, Holder highlighted a request in the President's proposed 2011 budget for $12 million in new funding for gang and youth violence prevention. According to the Justice Department website, this initiative would "fund communities, localities and/or state programs that support a multi-strategic coordinated approach to gang prevention, intervention, suppression and reentry in targeted communities. This initiative also aims to enhance and support evidence-based multimodal direct service programs that target both youth at risk of gang membership, as well as gang-involved youth."

Confronting Pressing Local Challenges

In addition to focusing on intergovernmental partnerships and policies, the network meeting also helped participating cities:

  • Confront pressing issues, such as reentry of incarcerated residents; employment; partnerships with the most crime-affected neighborhoods; and how to make the law enforcement case for prevention;
  • Explore deeper prevention strategies, such as those that are family, school and hospital based; and
  • Alter comprehensive local gang prevention plans based on lessons learned during the conference.

The California Cities Gang Prevention Network is supported by grants from the California Wellness Foundation and the California Endowment, with earlier support from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund, the East Bay Community Foundation and the Richmond Children's Fund. Kaiser Permanente provided additional support for this meeting.

Details: Download NLC's toolkit on "Preventing Gang Violence and Building Communities Where Young People Thrive." To learn more about the network, visit