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Valley Gang Unit Survives Shift in County Agency

Times Staff Writer

Officials of Community Youth Gang Services, Los Angeles County’s largest anti-gang agency, said their San Fernando Valley unit will remain intact while others are being reduced or eliminated in a major countywide reorganization.

At the same time, however, plans to increase the group’s social workers in the Valley from two to four have been put on hold, said Steve Valdivia, executive director of Community Youth Gang Services.

The reason is that the agency--faced with a lack of funds and staff--has decided to shift its focus to South-Central Los Angeles, which accounted for 30% of the 452 murders committed by gang members in the county last year, Valdivia said.

The organization’s Valley unit has been monitoring gang activity, counseling youths and educating the community about gangs since 1981.

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Valdivia and law enforcement authorities agree that the Valley needs more attention because of its increasing gang activity. Crime in the Valley rose 7.3% last year, police statistics show, and the number of gang-related killings jumped from 11 in 1987 to 33 in 1988.

Los Angeles police said the increase is primarily because gangs dealing in rock cocaine have found that they can make more money peddling their goods in the Valley than in such areas as downtown or South-Central Los Angeles.

“It’s definitely a hot spot,” Valdivia said. “And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Still, Manuel Velasquez, one of the counselors assigned to the agency’s Valley unit, remained optimistic last week that the two-man team would continue to make a dent in gang activity. “I wish we could have more people but we’ve been able to do a lot with just two of us,” Velasquez said.

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Velasquez said he and his partner, Jaime Leyva, are responsible for monitoring more than 100 gangs in the Valley. Their work consists largely of helping gang members find jobs, cleaning up graffiti, organizing Neighborhood Watch groups, and setting up programs to educate students, teachers and community groups on gang culture.

But much of the counselors’ time is spent talking to gang members on the street, trying to defuse tensions among rival gangs and helping police track their movements.

For this reason Detective Cliff Ruff, coordinator of the Police Department’s anti-gang operations in the Valley, said he supports the program. “If I want to know what a gang is doing in a particular area, they can help me. We have a good working relationship,” Ruff said.

Robert Medina, supervisor of the county Probation Department’s gang unit of probation officers at the Van Nuys Courthouse, said he believes that it is critical for Community Youth Gang Services to maintain a presence in the Valley.

“Maybe the amount of violence is not as much as in South-Central Los Angeles, but it’s here, and it’s on the rise,” Medina said. “And any help that is directed toward reducing gang activity in the Valley is welcomed and appreciated.”

Despite the overwhelming odds they face, Velasquez said, he and Leyva believe that they have made a difference. “We’ve been able to slow down a lot of kids and make them think about their actions,” he said. “That’s more important to me than a paycheck.”

Valdivia said he is uncertain when the agency, which is funded annually by $1.9 million in Los Angeles city and county revenue, will be able to add more counselors to its Valley unit.

10 Areas Eliminated

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As a result of the reorganization, gang prevention services in 10 of the agency’s 14 target areas, which include Venice, Hollywood, Pico Rivera and northeast Los Angeles, have been eliminated, Valdivia said. In addition, the number of crisis intervention teams such as the one in the Valley will be reduced in the East Los Angeles and the West Los Angeles areas.

Moreover, the County Board of Supervisors cut $58,000 from the agency’s 1988-89 budget.

Although he would like to see the number of awareness programs for elementary and junior high school students in the Valley increased, Valdivia said for now that he will have to be content with the work of the two counselors.

“I’d hate to see what would happen if they weren’t out there,” he said.


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