Mayors Call for Intergovernmental, Comprehensive Approach to Gang Violence
by Michael Karpman
"In almost every community I visit, I meet people - heroes - who are fighting to expel gangs from their midst," said California Attorney General Kamala Harris at a meeting of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network held last week in Oakland.
As California devolves many corrections, probation and parole responsibilities to local governments as part of its realignment plans, Attorney General Harris joined mayors, police chiefs, community and faith leaders and other "heroes" of the 13-city network in discussing how to continue working together to reduce gang violence under these new circumstances.
"I salute the California Cities Gang Prevention Network for their commitment to dealing with this problem, and for their search for the best law enforcement and community practices to apply," said Harris, who has championed truancy reduction and other collaborative strategies to reach young people before they enter gangs or the justice system.
Speaking on behalf of the network, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris, Oxnard Mayor Thomas Holden and Santa Rosa Mayor Ernesto Olivares issued and signed a Mayors' Call for Action urging a state and federal policy preference for comprehensive, cross-sector local gang prevention plans.
The statement calls for state and county governments to involve cities as full partners in realignment efforts, requests state participation in creating an evaluation methodology to assess and highlight the impact of comprehensive approaches, and promotes flexible state and federal funding for multi-agency, local gang prevention efforts that blend prevention, intervention and enforcement strategies. For the full statement, visit www.nlc.org/iyef.
For the past five years, network cities have tested, evaluated and shared lessons from these balanced approaches to identify what works in building communities that do not produce gangs. A toolkit on Preventing Gang Violence available on NLC's website provides an in-depth look at these efforts, which have led to sharp declines in violence and homicides in San Bernardino, Salinas, San Francisco and other network cities.
"Every community is different and individual as to how to pursue change," said Mayor Holden. Under his leadership, the City of Oxnard has adopted the Operation Ceasefire approach and used "call-ins" to present high-risk gang members with a clear, credible choice between intensive surveillance and prosecution of continued criminal behavior or services to support a more positive lifestyle.
"Combating youth and gang violence is the responsibility of the whole community - not just law enforcement," said Jack Calhoun, who directs the network as a senior consultant for NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families. "Network cities that involve schools, parents, faith and community-based organizations and businesses in a comprehensive plan can point to reductions in crime and an increase in community well-being. Such hopeful strategies must be supported during this critical time."
In addition to pursuing effective gang prevention strategies on the ground, network cities have played an influential role in recommending state and federal policy changes that have been adopted to support local practice, including:
• Continuation of state CalGRIP grants for cities' anti-gang work;
• Broadening the mission of a reorganized Board of State and Community Corrections to include prevention and intervention through SB 92, the Budget Act of 2011;
• Adoption of California Assembly Joint Resolution 40 urging flexible federal funding for comprehensive local gang prevention plans that are multijurisdictional, cross-disciplinary and evidence-based; and
• Serving as a model for the Obama Administration's National Forum for Youth Violence Prevention, which includes two network member cities - Salinas and San José.
However, new challenges loom with a state realignment plan that will soon transfer responsibility for thousands of residents incarcerated for lower-level crimes in state prisons to county jails, probation and parole departments. These changes stem from a federal court ruling to reduce prison overcrowding and take place in the context of California's ongoing budget crisis.
Alameda County Chief Probation Officer David Muhammad noted that his department would be responsible for up to 800 new low-level offenders under realignment, in addition to 4,000 serious and violent offenders already under his supervision.
Because the public safety impact of realignment and drastic state budget cuts will be felt acutely by city governments, speakers underscored the need for intergovernmental collaboration throughout the meeting. Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, outlined the long-term state and local partnership that will be necessary to make realignment successful.
State Sen. Loni Hancock, chair of the California Senate Public Safety Committee and Budget Subcommittee and a key architect of realignment, and Attorney General Harris both cited the opportunity to reduce the state's 70 percent recidivism rate. "We need to shut that revolving door," said Harris. Network leaders underscored the essential role of funding support and collaboration in promoting successful diversion, rehabilitation and reentry.
At the federal level, the White House has been taking steps to support coordinated, interdisciplinary, place-based initiatives such as the National Forum, said Thomas Abt, chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. Abt, who thanked the network for its pioneering work, heads the Forum, an equally pioneering effort to coordinate and focus the resources of federal agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, Labor and Housing and Urban Development, the Centers for Disease Control and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
While much work remains to be done in a rapidly changing state and federal funding and policy environment, the meeting gave city leaders the opportunity to reflect on the network's success over the last five years. In a survey of participating cities, respondents praised the network as a forum for peer learning and support and a mechanism for communicating local needs to state and federal policymakers.
"The network has been invaluable to me as a law enforcement professional," said one respondent from Salinas. "My association with others in the network has profoundly changed the way I view law enforcement's relationship and role in prevention, intervention and enforcement. As a result, the Salinas Police Department has changed its way of doing business relative to these other "pillars" of violence prevention."
Said another respondent, "We have learned so much from other cities. When we were struggling or having a tough time implementing a new concept, there were others to call on that had been through it."
Details: NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency sponsor the California Cities Gang Prevention Network with support from the California Wellness Foundation and the California Endowment. Kaiser Permanente provided additional support for the network meeting. Participating cities include Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, Salinas, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San José, Santa Rosa and Stockton. To learn more, visit www.nlc.org/iyef or www.ccgpn.org.