Disrupt Violence: Hot Zones into Play Zones

#DisruptViolence in L.A.’s gang hot zones! @AP_California trains disruptors to break the deadly cycle and keep youth safe.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Disrupt Violence trains former gang members to disrupt the deadly cycle of gang violence, creating family and neighborhood safety in L.A.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South Bay


Antelope Valley

What is your idea/project in more detail?

In L.A.’s gang violence hot zones people are too afraid to play, or ride their bikes, or go to the park. But there are unexpected neighborhood heroes that disrupt the deadly cycle of violence: former gang members who have had enough. When there’s a 3 am shooting, a gang interventionist is there to comfort the survivors, control rumors, stop retaliation, broker peace, and connect families to much-needed services. Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Academy partners with them to effectively disrupt violence through a rigorous training program. The Academy also trains other frontline people in hot zones, such as social workers, hospital staffers, and therapists – all necessary to change the future of gang-involved youth and their families.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Academy will train at least 60 gang interventionists in cutting-edge violence disruption. There will be seven training sessions over 12 months: two 12-week training sessions for entry-level gang interventionists; and five one-day intensive workshops provided with our partner gang intervention organization, V2K HELPER Foundation, for at least 250 professionals who want to build skills in engaging gang-involved youth and families.

Launched in 2008, the Urban Peace Academy focuses on relationship-based gang intervention: using a worker’s “License to Operate”, or street credibility, to intervene in a neighborhood to reduce violence. Interventionists can only serve communities in which they have a License to Operate, and through this project the Urban Peace Academy will develop interventionists from neighborhoods in need across L.A.

The trainings for gang interventionists will focus on a wide array of topics: Mediation & Conflict Resolution; Incident Response; Interaction with Law Enforcement; Victim Services; Experiences with Trauma; Ethnic Dynamics; Hospital- and School-Based Intervention; Gangs, Technology & Social Media; and more.

The training also emphasizes working in collaboration with professionals in other sectors to maximize violence reduction efforts, e.g., community-based organizations, emergency room personnel, mental health providers. The second set of trainings in this project will address these and other stakeholders. Working with our partner, V2K HELPER Foundation, we will recruit and train diverse groups of professionals to understand gangs in L.A., with a strong emphasis on building the skills needed to engage gang-involved youth and their families. Successful disruption of the cycle of violence will require understanding multiple cultures: racial/ethnic, gang, and interfamilial.

For both sets of trainees, the Urban Peace Academy’s teaching methodology blends street-level and practitioner-based knowledge with academic literature. Participants learn about gang intervention conceptually, through hands-on practice, and in relation to their own individual experiences. Our training methods are creative, collaborative, and emphasize equality between teacher and learner, especially important when engaging non-traditional learners such as formerly incarcerated gang members. They range from group discussion, lecture, multi-media presentations, to role play, the Socratic Method, and team-building activities.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to PLAY today? In 2050?

The greenest park, newest playground, or highest-quality program can’t make a difference in the lives of Angelenos unless they feel safe enough to use them. Gang interventionists work in “hot zones” - communities with particularly high levels of gang violence, especially as compared to surrounding neighborhoods. In a hot zone, even walking to school is a battle. As one youth in Watts described in a focus group we conducted: “It’s not even about learning anymore. It’s about survival. Just get there and get back home.”

The Urban Peace Academy helps make L.A. the best place to play today by working immediately to reduce and prevent violence, making poor neighborhoods safer so that children can learn, families can thrive, and communities can prosper. As we plan for 2050, Advancement Project knows that when violence is reduced, more and more resources become available, families become stronger over the years due to the efforts of local service providers, and neighborhoods can be revitalized.

Many communities are isolated because of high levels of violence. After gang interventionists work to establish or restore peace in an area, community-based organizations can provide services – to individuals, as well as their families. The Urban Peace Academy will have trained these professionals how to coordinate with gang interventionists, helping to strengthen youth and their family members, breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence that is present in many gang-entrenched neighborhoods. Breaking that cycle is a step toward bringing crime down, and bringing people out from behind their locked doors to interact with each other and enjoy their community.

The Urban Peace Academy has worked extensively with the L.A. Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD) to train gang intervention workers in Summer Night Lights, GRYD’s summer violence reduction strategy. It provides evening and late-night family-friendly programming in parks in hot zones during the critical months when much crime is committed by and against youth. The results have been transformative in Summer Night Lights neighborhoods: gang-related crime reduced by over 15%; 35% fewer gang-related homicides. We have also observed that after GRYD launched the program and it became apparent that the parks were safe spaces, more and more service providers joined the effort and provided their programming as part of the strategy, and increasingly, throughout the year as their regular work.

Whom will your project benefit?

The Urban Peace Academy will benefit the communities most impacted by violence throughout Los Angeles County, as many interventionists grew up and hold a License to Operate in these places. In a hot zone community, even walking to school is a battle. In our research report, “Community Safety Scorecard: Los Angeles”, published in 2011, the least safe ZIP codes in the city generally experienced two times the gang related crime as the city as a whole, and almost twice the rate of violent crime and child abuse.

We expect that the project would benefit multiple communities in the City of Los Angeles, unincorporated areas of LA County, and cities from San Fernando in the north to Long Beach in the south. Our partner, V2K HELPER Foundation, will leverage its relationship with a mental health services provider that works with gang-involved youth and their families in Torrance, Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, Compton, and Carson to recruit professionals to participate in the training to improve their effectiveness in working with these families. Lastly, the Urban Peace Academy has a direct benefit on the gang interventionists and community professionals who successfully complete the training, and learn the role that they can play in ensuring the safety of children and families.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Advancement Project has confirmed its partnership with V2K HELPER Foundation to implement the Urban Peace Academy for the My LA 2050 Grants Challenge. V2K HELPER Foundation brings the added benefit of extensive knowledge and experience in engaging families of gang-involved youth in high-violence communities. Founded in 1999, V2K HELPER Foundation (formerly known as Venice 2000) is a nonprofit organization originally established to provide gang intervention and prevention services. Since that time, the organization has come to view “community-intervention” services as a critical need to combat gang-related violence, the destruction of our communities, and the loss of our young people to the lure of the underground economy. The goal of V2K HELPER Foundation is to provide the resources and guidance to help struggling youth and community members of all ages make the transition from negative, anti-social behavior to positive, value-centered alternatives.

As instructors and consultants, their staff provide the necessary practical expertise to educate service providers, especially social workers and mental health professionals, about gang intervention to support these vulnerable families. They excel at helping these professionals become more knowledgeable about gang dynamics, and thus, more effective in their service provision. As mentioned previously, they have a relationship with a large mental health services provider in LA County that works with gang-involved youth and their families. V2K HELPER Foundation will use that relationship to recruit participants for the trainings.

Our two organizations have worked together since 2008, essentially since the launch of the Urban Peace Academy, which V2K HELPER leadership helped to start. We regularly partner with them to conduct trainings on gang intervention in communities throughout California; and they support the periodic revision and improvements to the Urban Peace Academy curriculum.

Three factors critical to the success of our proposal collaboration are:

V2K HELPER Foundation’s demonstrated ability to collaborate

Our long history of working together

Both organizations’ shared understanding of the needs of high-violence communities

How will your project impact the LA2050 PLAY metrics?

Access to open space and park facilities

Per capita crime rates

Percentage of residents that feel safe in their neighborhoods

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Advancement Project believes the Urban Peace Academy can impact the three checked metrics above, which are interrelated. Gang intervention and family support services are critical strategies in communities experiencing high levels of violence. When they are present and effective, as in the LA Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD) focus communities, crime has been demonstrated to decline. We anticipate similar success for the communities served by the gang interventionists trained in the Urban Peace Academy.

We believe that more residents will begin to feel safe in their neighborhoods, but not simply because of a reduction in crime. A reduction in crime might not register for an isolated family thoroughly enmeshed in gang dynamics and alienated from the neighborhood. But that same family, when engaged by well-trained community organizations that are adept at helping the family address their challenges, can emerge from their isolation to participate fully in community life.

The Urban Peace Academy helps to impact “access to open space and park facilities,” but not through the creation of new spaces. Rather, the Academy equips gang interventionists with the tools necessary to negotiate the “neutrality” of public spaces for the use of the community, and the routes to access those spaces. More and more areas of LA County are adopting summer violence reduction strategies like LA’s Summer Night Lights, and we anticipate that Urban Peace Academy-trained gang interventionists would be in high demand to staff or support those programs.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Advancement Project evaluates the success of the Urban Peace Academy at the level of the individual participant and at the neighborhood level of the community they serve and work to keep safe. Because gang interventionists we train are generally part of larger efforts in LA County to reduce violence, we examine select city-wide and county-wide crime data.

At the conclusion of each training session Urban Peace Academy staff conduct participant evaluations to gather specific feedback on training content, instructor capacity, session relevance, and overall satisfaction of the day (for both the 1-day intensive training for community intervention workers and the 12-week training for gang interventionists).

For the entry-level gang intervention training, we conduct an evaluation analysis that will break down the scores for each day and provide an overall process evaluation for the entire training. These will be used to assess the effectiveness of instructors and curriculum, and will help Advancement Project augment the training as necessary.

Three specific metrics we measure are:

1) Reduction in part I crimes in the City of Los Angeles and areas of LA County served by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department: homicide; rape; burglary; aggravated assault; robbery; auto theft; and theft from vehicle

2) Knowledge gained by participants of gang intervention and its core competencies (entry-level training only)

3) Usefulness of Urban Peace Academy training in providing services to gang-involved youth and their families (community intervention worker training only)

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Advancement Project initially created the Urban Peace Academy due to Los Angeles’ failed and costly “war on gangs”. The City of Los Angeles spent 30 years and $25 billion that resulted in 450,000 youth arrests; six times as many gangs; increasing gang violence; gang participation that had mushroomed to more than 100,000 active members; and persistent conflict between law enforcement and communities of color. We learned this and more in researching our groundbreaking 2007 report, “A Call to Action: A Case for a Comprehensive Solution to L.A.’s Gang Violence Epidemic” based on exhaustive research by 45 subject matter experts, including police. We saw this massive failure as a warning that we needed a completely new strategy.

The report concluded that Los Angeles needed to replace this endless “shock and awe” war with a community safety model based on a comprehensive public health approach that melded strategic suppression, prevention, community mobilization, and intervention. Then LAPD Chief of Police William Bratton said, “We cannot arrest our way out of the gang crisis. We need to do the full agenda laid out in A Call to Action.”

Since launching the Urban Peace Academy in 2008, we have also learned how building up the field of gang intervention in L.A. County helps develop neighborhood leadership and community capacity to implement and sustain safety solutions.

While we have operated the Urban Peace Academy for gang interventionists for some time, our strategy to provide gang intervention training to other community professionals like public officials, service providers, public and private agencies, and school and hospital staff is relatively new. We created this approach as we learned over time that there were other stakeholders in the community on the frontlines of gang violence and gang dynamics who struggled to implement effective strategies with the youth and families locked in the destructive cycle. In a way, through therapy and case management and other professional services, they were practicing something complementary to intervention, but that wasn’t effectively helping to change the trajectory of these families’ lives.

Gang violence occurs in many areas of a community. We train stakeholders besides just gang interventionists so they learn the role that they can play in ensuring the safety of children and families in communities.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Advancement Project has extensive experience implementing the Urban Peace Academy, and in partnership with V2K HELPER Foundation, can provide the necessary capacity to deliver the project over the next twelve months. We have conducted the entry-level gang intervention training each year for more than five years; and our new comprehensive training for community intervention workers has dedicated instructors and a curriculum that has been vetted by our partners in gang intervention, mental health, law enforcement, and academia. Advancement Project’s offices in Echo Park feature a conference room that can accommodate the training sessions. To date, the Urban Peace Academy has trained over 2,400 gang intervention and community workers, as well as over 600 law enforcement officers, through a parallel training we developed for police that allows for cross-training opportunities and development of best practices for collaboration between these stakeholders.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

We anticipate our project may encounter the following challenges:

1) Readiness of service providers to participate: in the short time that we have expanded the Urban Peace Academy training to professionals in addition to full-time gang interventionists, we have encountered service providers who need specific training on how to engage gang-involved youth and families. In some cases, they believe that their difficulty assisting families is related to some deficit the family has, as opposed to an area of improvement for their professional practice, whether it is therapy, social work, family support, or youth programming.

Partnering with our ally, V2K HELPER Foundation, will help us address this challenge. Through the broad work of their organization they bring in extensive relationships with service providers, and can vouch for the relevance and utility of the Urban Peace Academy.

2) Another potential challenge is that one aspect of our evaluation is new and untried. In addition to conducting a post-session survey as part of the one-day intensive training for service providers, we will conduct a follow-up survey with attendees three months after the training session. We are interested in assessing how effective our training was in helping to improve their practice or programming with gang-involved youth and families.

Despite this being our first effort, we are preparing to conduct a successful evaluation by establishing an agreement with the organizations that send attendees to support the completion of our follow-up survey. The surveys are an important part of our continuous improvement process for the trainings, and help us to address their stated needs, and the challenges they face.

What resources does your project need?

Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)