“This initiative has been fantastic. If I’ve got an idea or a problem, I know I can call or visit a colleague in a Network city, a colleague who is doing what I’m thinking about doing.” ~Paul Vinetz, LA County Probation
With gangs playing a disproportionate role in violent crimes in many communities, probation officials in California have joined mayors, police chiefs and citizen groups in a vibrant state-wide, 13-city anti-gang network. The California Cities Gang Prevention Network helps these officials identify and share gang prevention strategies and solutions and suggest requisite policy and administrative changes on the state and federal levels that could enhance local collaboration and effectiveness. The thirteen participating cities include Fresno, Los Angeles (San Fernando Valley), Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, Salilnas, San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton.
Each city has formed a five-to-eight member team with at least one representative from the mayor’s office, the chief of policy, and the community as well as other municipal and county leaders such as probation officials, school administrators and faith-based and nonprofit stakeholders. With a shared belief that nothing will change unless everyone takes responsibility – and with full cooperation from the California Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices – the network is gaining steam as the 13 cities help each other develop and refine coordinated approaches that blend prevention, intervention and enforcement.
Kent Paxton, Violence Prevention Coordinator for the City of San Bernardino, confirms that probation has been an “essential partner” on all three fronts-prevention, intervention and enforcement. “They have facilitated our school-based intervention efforts, and collaborated with other CBOs to identify and work with our high-risk youth. They have also played a key role in our suppression efforts.” To assist with San Bernardino’s policy efforts, “probation has devoted a full time position on the countywide task force for the gang coordination work”
Probation has played an essential role in assisting with city-wide-and in some instances, county-wide-planning and service delivery. Probation’s participation in most of the Network cities has proved essential in at least five ways:
- Probation’s central role intervening to remove teens and young adults from gang influence
- The capacity probation often brings in the areas of planning and coordination
- Its readiness to bridge the sometimes large divide between county and city government
- Probation’s exciting new areas of involvement such as school-based prevention and co-location with community and faith-based organizations; and
- Its ability to help identify the prevention and intervention needs of at risk youth.
THE NETWORK’S GOALS
“We as the probation service are ideally suited to be in the middle of this effort. We are cradle to grave – from informal probation to community sanctions, mentoring, service brokering, to presence in schools. We enforce and we provide services, trying to keep kids out of the system or keeping them from getting deeper into it.” ~Kim Epps, Supervising Probation Officer, and Coordinator San Bernardino Countywide Gangs and Drugs Task Force
Designed in 2006 and launched early in 2007 by the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth. Education and Families (YEF) in partnership with the Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Network is based on the idea that gang violence will not be reduced and prevented unless participating cities produced detailed citywide strategies involving specific commitments made by key stakeholders.
Grants from the California Wellness Foundation, the California Endowment, The East Bay Community Foundation, the Richmond Children’s Fund and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, support Network efforts.
The Network’s core belief holds that nothing will change unless everyone takes responsibility-from parents and probation to schools, businesses and the faith community. The Network has six goals:
- Get in front of the gang issue before policies based on fear alone divert funds from essential infrastructures
- Reduce and help prevent gang-related violence and victimization
- Create citywide strategies that blend enforcement, prevention and intervention
- Identify and document city responses to key program and policy questions (e.g. who should be involved, how, what doesn’t work)
- Forge a vibrant peer-learning network among the 13 participating cities
- Identify state policy and practice that would support effective community practice.
Each city has forged its overall gang strategy through different vehicles such as the mayors’ gang prevention task forces in San Jose and Santa Rosa, the San Fernando Valley Coalition on Gangs in Los Angeles, The Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention in San Diego and countywide task forces in other cities and through smaller offices such as the Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond and the Office of Youth Development in Sacramento.
Whatever the planning entity, the central task for each is the same: to craft a comprehensive plan that includes prevention, intervention and enforcement, and, to the degree possible, the “moral voice” of the community. The plans vary in scope and quality: some tilt more toward enforcement, some more toward prevention, some have exalted goals without much in the way of detailed implementation steps, but all attempt to blend prevention, intervention and enforcement and all attempt the harness the energies of the widest array of actors.
THE POTENCY OF WORKING TOGETHER
“It’s pretty amazing, really. Members on the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force Policy Team sat down together to recommend which groups should be awarded contracts this year based on the Task Force’s new plan. We also looked and agreed to blend County and City resources to serve our clients.” -Sheila Mitchell, Chief Probation Officer, Santa Clara County
In San Jose, the nation’s 10th largest city, Sheila sits on the policy committee of the San Jose’s Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force. Her deputies and managers sit on the Task Force’s various “Technical Committee” sub-committees. “Not only is it a wonderful working relationship, its pragmatic too because 70 percent of our kids come from San Jose. I’ve got to know what’s going on and what the city is trying to do so we can make the best use of limited resources.” Based on the gang issue and the city’s council-approved plan, she has redeployed her probation resources in different ways and has launched some new, joint ventures such as an agreement with the city (via an Memorandum of Understanding) to “have some of our Juvenile Hall kids clean off graffiti on Saturday and Sunday.”
While Sheila has changed “what we do” such as mentoring and graffiti clean ups, she still holds to probation’s core values. “We do what’s in the best interest in community safety, and what’s in the best interest of the child,” she says.
Paul Vinetz’s reflections from his seat as a Los Angeles County probation officer are similar: “The key is our network of cooperation. We’re in schools, in parks, housing … you name it, we’re there. Our service configuration might change, but our core beliefs stay-that we must protect the public and that each gang member is a human being and is redeemable.”
San Bernardino’s Kim Epps asserts that because probation must be “where the kids are” working relationships must be established with the widest and sometimes surprising array of entities. “We’re in the schools making sure the kids stay in school and we try to keep out those who don’t belong. We have been working closely with the local Boys and Girls Club helping them recruit kids from the schools and in some cases paying for their registration fees. We work closely with community based and faith-based organizations.” Kim has involved McDonald’s (food donations), Costco (food and water), the Red Cross (babysitting training/certification), MADD, the county museum and banks (financial planning).
Manuel Real, Monterey’s Chief Probation officer and Chair of the Countywide Children’s Council, says “We’ve got our mandates such as juvenile intake and supervision of wards, but we’re also there wherever we’re needed-for instance we’ve even assigned an officer to Rancho Cielo, a ‘youth campus; (alternative education, day reporting center for Juvenile County wards, a city corps job program, as well as a community resource for all youth) in addition to a presence in schools and work with families.” The Children’s Council has created a Violence Prevention sub-committee, which is now working closely with the City of Salinas on the development of its city-wide gang prevention strategy.
At root, it is not probation and the community, but the fact that we’re part of the community;’ says Kim. “We want to be seen not just as supervising officers, but members of the community who know the kids. Yes, we may have to supervise and even arrest, but the important thing is the relationship. Then you know who’s hungry, who’s being abused, who’s being bullied and who’s bringing weapons into school. So it’s a relationship with the kids and with the agencies that work with them.”
Steve Streeter, retired Assistant Division Chief for Sacramento County Probation and currently Youth Gang and Violence Prevention Resource Coordinator for the City of Sacramento believes that probation plays an essential role in helping to determine what services are needed for at risk kids. “Probation is a critical partner;’ Steve asserts.
“The irony is that the only place poor kids can get services is in Juvenile Hall. Go to jail to get your teeth fixed. Mental heath services? Physical health services? Jail will provide them. Probation case loads are huge. The officers can hardly keep up with their supervisory responsibilities;’ Steve maintains. Having to concentrate on those most at risk and the high numbers of those released from custody, means a depletion of resources and little time to focus on prevention. But Probation really knows kids. “What Probation can and does tell us is what’s going on, what community or school-based prevention interventions might be needed to keep these kids from getting deeper into the system;’ Steve says. “And they are really committed: Sacramento County Probation Division Chief John Green serves as a valued member of the City of Sacramento Strategic Planning Committee.”
Probation’s involvement can influence program as well as policy decisions. Barbara Marquez O’Neil, Consultant for the Oxnard County Collaborative, believes that probation’s involvement in Oxnard’s gang violence prevention planning from the very beginning led them to reconsider whether allow ex-offenders from the Oxnard Clergy Council Peacemakers (street workers) to work with probation youth in the juvenile facility. “The issue of liability is one of the major reasons probation denied them access at first;’ she says.”Because of the positive working relationship developed with probation, steps are now being taken to reexamine its policy on this. The technical assistance provided to us through the Network regarding the 10-year success of ex-offenders from Barrios Unidos working with Santa Cruz County Probation Department in its juvenile hall was critical to opening up the conversation with our probation department here in Ventura County.’
Another positive outcome of the relationship with probation is Barbara’s access to youth committed to the juvenile facility. “The ability to talk with youth and ask them firsthand what might have prevented them from getting into trouble in the first place is invaluable;’ she says. “Probation, as a trusted partner, worked with me to make this happen. This will help us shape our prevention efforts here in Oxnard.”
Sheralynn Freitas, Probation’s Deputy Chief of Field Services in Sonoma County serves on Santa Rosa’s Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force. Probation is involved at many levels of operation, and has help to shape policy: she refers with pride to the fact that “roughly 80 percent of Tax Measure 0 money is being spent on prevention services for younger youth, thus putting balance in the system.”
Probation staff are involved at many levels, including those who helped steer programming focus via the RFP process, those working to coordinate services with CBOs and those working on the marketing plan for the Mayor’s Task Force. Interestingly, changes “on the line” seem to excite her most. “The Task Force brought us to the table and it’s changed how we do business on the street. There is a new level of cooperation with my officers sharing information with CBOs and other treatment providers. You can hear them say at meetings, ‘I’m trying this with Johnny and it doesn’t seem to work, what have you tried?'” In spite of high case loads, potential cutbacks and a weak State economy, Sheralynn, citing unprecedented levels of cooperation and “ferment in how we all do work;’ says “It’s a great time to be in the field.”
IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
The converse also makes the point. The picture can sometimes be less rosy. In one, the city and county aren’t really talking-the county forging its plan, the city its. The mayor, getting constituent pressure to “do something about the gang issue;’ in turn puts heat on city employees to come up with a plan. Similarly, the county supervisors lean on county personnel to come up with a gang prevention/ enforcement strategy. Some of the difficulty has to do with ego, some with husbanding resources (“You’re not going to tell me how to spend my money”) and some because of the simple fact that cooperative planning takes time and is messy. Admittedly, planning is not efficient, thus making extended joint planning all the more politically difficult in the face of a fearful public clamoring for a quick solution to the problem of gang violence. It is not that plans don’t exist, and that some progress is not being made; rather, it is the lack of a coordinated city/ county plan that makes the strategy less than optimal.
All seem to have benefited from the work of colleagues in sister cities. For example, Manuel Real asserts that the Network has “invigorated us;’ and has “validated some of our ideas and the directions we’ve taken.” He has picked up additional policy and program ideas: “Oxnard’s Youth Corps inspired us to start one here. San Jose’s [officials J came down to us, presenting how they did things. Our major take away was accountability-keep the programs that work and don’t stay with those that aren’t, putting everything in the context of a larger plan.”
Oxnard has visited Salinas, as it considers starting a program similar to Salinas’ Rancho Cielo. Mack Jenkins, San Diego’s Chief Probation Officer suggests that the Network has “validated” his belief in collaborative work and is helping San Diego’s Commission follow the lead of those cities that “have written comprehensive plans.” Many cities are adopting (and adapting) Fresno’s public service advertising campaign.
Every city has paid at least one visit to sister city to examine the policy process or promising programs. Others report being pushed by the Network, to rethink current efforts, and ” … not to be happy with the current status.”
SIGNS OF THE NETWORK’S SUCCESS
Although, too early to claim definitively that Network activity has reduced gang violence, early signs of success are apparent:
- Each city has formed or enhanced a central planning entity
- New offices or positions created such as the Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond, the Office of Community Safety in Salinas, A Gang and Youth Prevention Specialist in Los Angeles, A Youth Development Coordinator in Sacramento, A Violence Prevention Coordinator in San Francisco
- Local officials have changed the way they talk and think about gang prevention, weaving prevention, intervention and enforcement themes naturally into their city’s plan
- Potentially fear-based strategies put into larger civic health context, e.g. Salinas Mayor Donahue’s “City at Peace” speech
- Many disparate, unconnected programs now connected to a larger, citywide effort
- Tax levies for prevention and enforcement enacted in Santa Rosa, Oakland and San Bernardino and proposed in Los Angeles and Oxnard
- The Governor’s Office, the California Assembly and leading Congressional figures have shown keen interest and learned about the network at subsequent briefings
- Desire from other cities in California and across the U.S. to join the network
- Invitations to speak about the 13-city effort at state and national conferences
- Hand-in-glove work with California’s Gang and Youth Policy Office(CalGRIP) which is examining state policy and practice in order to better support local comprehensive gang prevention efforts.
10 PRINCIPLES OF SUCCESS
- The mayor and chief of police must be together, leading. This leadership combines the moral (“This will not be tolerated …”), the conceptual (a plan), and the bureaucratic (city business will be done in a different way)
- Because major services are provided by the county-probation, mental health, child welfare to mention only a few-key county leaders must be an integral part of the planning process
- Law enforcement and social services must not be seen an antithetical concepts. They are wedded. As parents, we set limits and we nurture. Probation enforces and provides services. To reduce gang violence, certainty of consequences as well as certainty of help must be communicated and provided
- A comprehensive, citywide strategy that involves the county must be developed. Many believe that a program here and there will save a city. It won’t. Each civic entity must play a role: schools, businesses, the faith community, social services. Developing such a strategy is difficult conceptually (it is not always easy to know what to do), and politically (power, authority and sometimes resources must be shared)
- An entity that will track the work (e.g. commission, gang task force), review the plan, hold partners accountable must be created a broad, embracing vision with a bold goal or goals must be crafted. Santa Rosa’s “Reclaim Our Youth for Their Families, Schools, Communities and Future” with a goal of “cutting gang violence in half in five years;’ serves as a good example
- Keeping the moral passion front and center: a 12-year-old boy who refuses to go to school for fear of being killed; adults who won’t shop at night because of gang violence
- Sustaining the work requires driving it into governmental and civic realities through tax laws, ordinances, administrative changes, public meetings and the like
- Realizing that the comprehensive plan is a living, organic document that must be periodically reviewed against ever-changing demographic and economic factors
- Trusted and caring adults must establish relationships with young people in the community, even with the most unsavory. Gang members are lured into gangs by other people, people who engage in their lives and who seem to care about them (I’ve got your back.”).
It is a truism to state that the reduction of gang violence necessitates cooperation, or, more formally, the establishment of a coalition.
City mayors and chiefs who are close to and who daily witness the civic pain caused by gang violence have, typically, led the planning process. However, city leaders cannot succeed without the active involvement of county-led service providers such as probation.
It seem clear, even at this early stage in the Network’s life, that those cities actively involving probation in planning, service delivery and results tracking, hold the most promise for reducing gang violence and helping to build communities that do not produce kids who join gangs.
John A. Calhoun, MPA is senior consultant to the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and founding President and CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council. He is author if Hope Matters; The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America.
*Originally published in the Winter 2009 edition of Perspectives; The Journal of the American Probation and Parole Association.