Prevention Getting Closer Look in Anti-Gang Efforts : Crime: Many say such programs are more effective than locking up youths. But funding remains uncertain.


Seventeen-year-old Jose Brizuela is a wrestling champ, a B-average student, a campus leader at James Monroe High School in North Hills and an object lesson held up by those who argue that spending time and money helping kids stay out of gangs pays off handsomely.

Brizuela lives in the heart of gang territory with his mother and siblings but, with a boost from his wrestling coaches and moral support from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Jeopardy project, he has become a role model for other youths.

Jeopardy is one of dozens of publicly and privately funded efforts to dissuade Los Angeles County youths from joining gangs. Although those programs vary widely in approach and sources of funding, they share a belief that it is cheaper, and more humane, to guide young people toward productive alternatives to gangs than it is to lock them up in prison at a cost of $30,000 or more a year--or to bury them when they’ve become the victim of a gang-related killing.


Despite what many say is the effectiveness of prevention efforts, their funding has been unreliable. But now, with gang-related violent crime rising, and the resources available for law enforcement limited, police and policy makers are paying closer attention. U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, for example, told a group of business leaders in May that the nation needs to “redirect its resources to crime prevention and drug treatment, not just jailing offenders.”

But budget problems are threatening to dismantle some existing efforts--or, at least, cause them to wither.

The county Probation Department’s highly regarded Gang Awareness and Prevention Program (GAPP), for example, could go on the chopping block if state voters do not renew a 1% sales tax in November.

GAPP places probation officers on elementary and junior high school campuses to work with kids who seem to be headed for trouble before they are arrested. Another Probation Department youth crime prevention program, which placed officers on eight high school campuses in South Los Angeles, will end in September because the Los Angeles Unified School District could not afford to pay part of its cost.

“The most frustrating thing . . . is that it doesn’t seem right that you have to go out and scramble and fight and beg and plead for dollars to help kids,” said Sally Thompson, executive director of New Directions for Youth, based in Van Nuys.

Three years ago, New Directions, the most comprehensive such agency in the San Fernando Valley, had a $2-million budget for running a school, assessing and helping troubled youths, running peer counseling groups on 20 school campuses, providing job training and conducting parenting classes. Now its budget is $1.2 million and could shrink even further if voters do not extend the 1% sales tax.


On Friday, the Legislature failed to renew the Gang Risk Intervention Program (GRIP), which has provided $3 million to Los Angeles County agencies during the past three years to assist at-risk youths. The money came from the $150 million in assets that law enforcement agencies seized in drug raids during that time.

Thompson said her agency employed counselors at three schools with the $75,000 it received from the program. She said the money constituted “an investment in youth” and that the counseling services might be ended if the money was not renewed.

Community Youth Gang Services, a countywide gang-violence prevention and intervention agency operating with a budget nearly $1 million less now than four years ago, will have to drop counseling efforts in Lynwood and Compton because of the loss of GRIP funds.

An independent assessment of GRIP funded by the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning, which opposes the program, nonetheless concluded that it was effective in steering younger children away from crime.

“When dollars get tight, prevention gets cut because people want to see the bad people off the street, now,” said Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Panorama City), who authored the GRIP legislation and wants to see it expanded to other counties.

Deputy Chief Mark A. Kroeker, the top police official in the San Fernando Valley, said prevention and policing are interdependent, and both are essential.


He expanded the Jeopardy program to all five Valley divisions in 1992, staffing it with 10 officers paid for by the city. Through Jeopardy, about 1,000 youths are coached in activities such as distance running, boxing, karate, ice hockey, drama and wrestling.

“If it wasn’t as valuable as it is, I wouldn’t push it. . . . But for every ounce that we put into it, we get a pound of prevention back,” Kroeker said. The program has “absolutely redirected thousands of kids here in the Valley.”

Among them are Jose Brizuela and his brother, Alfonso, also a talented wrestler, and his sister, Guadalupe, a dancer. Along with two older brothers and their mother, they fled the war in El Salvador and came to live in a cramped apartment on Sepulveda Boulevard. A gang made up of Salvadoran immigrants is active in the area, but the Brizuelas began attending Jeopardy’s twice-weekly sessions instead of hanging out on the street.

“The Jeopardy guys were the ones that really gave me the support to stick with it,” said Jose Brizuela, referring to Jeopardy officers Henry Izzo and Gary Crump. “Since I found Jeopardy, they told me about the gangs, how they’re always influencing you . . . so what I did was I just picked the wrestling and forgot all that other stuff.”

Even though the city pays the officers’ salaries, they have to solicit donations to pay for equipment, facility rentals and the cost of taking youths to events. Last year the program raised $100,000 from donations; this year that amount fell to $30,000.

“The LAPD budget is about $1 billion, but you couldn’t find $60 in it to buy a pair of boxing gloves to save your life,” said Kroeker, referring to the need to raise money for Jeopardy.


Despite success stories such as the Brizuelas, the total membership in the county’s estimated 800 gangs is now thought to exceed 110,000--or roughly the population of Santa Clarita. The death toll from gang violence was down substantially during the first six months of this year from 1992, when a record 803 people died in gang-related deaths over the full year. Still, 302 lost their lives during the first half of 1993.

In response to statistics such as those, the Wellness Foundation, based in Woodland Hills, along with other sponsors, has allocated $30 million over the next five years for counseling, parenting classes, cultural awareness activities and arts and recreational programs. Community-based agencies all over California are developing those programs now with funds provided by the foundation.

Also, the city and county have pledged a combined $5.4 million for this year for Hope in Youth, a church and community-based effort to train volunteers to help strengthen families. An additional $2 million from the state is awaiting the signature of Gov. Pete Wilson.

“What is going to make Hope in Youth work is a new constituency for youth--parents and churches and business and community leaders coming together for a new partnership--and the ability to mobilize hundreds of volunteers,” said Lou Negrete, a Cal State Los Angeles professor of Chicano Studies and a strategist for the campaign. “In scale, we come closer to what you need to address the problem.”

Dr. Paul Juarez of the department of family medicine at Charles R. Drew University is chairman of the county Violence Prevention Coalition, formed two years ago to take a broad, multidisciplinary look at violence.

He said all youths need certain formative experiences to become adults. If families do not provide those experiences, then society must. Otherwise, he said, youths will turn to their peers, to gangs, for opportunities to learn about responsibility and maintaining relationships and earning a wage.


“We’ve seen after-school programs decimated, sports programs eliminated, parks and recreation programs closed, libraries closed, and jobs moved out so that fewer and fewer apprenticeship opportunities exist,” he said. “That’s why it is so crucial to have alternative, positive experiences available within communities.”

He said he favors comprehensive “rites of passage” programs that help young people achieve cultural awareness, plan for careers, identify values, learn to handle money and build self-esteem. Key sources for such help are the numerous, often bare-bones community organizations in the county.

Among the better funded, however, is the city of Los Angeles’s Community Development Program, which spent about $4.7 million in federal dollars in 1992 on youth services, including gang prevention and diversion efforts. More than a third of that money supported an effort to provide counseling and other assistance for youths who are arrested but who are not yet heavily involved in gangs.

The CDD also administers federal money intended for job training and employment programs, which experts say are among the most effective deterrents to gang membership. The agency had hoped to have enough money to hire 43,000 youths for summer jobs this year but only had enough to offer 11,000 positions. More than half of those who had applied were turned down.

“We calculate in general that we serve about 1% of the need on the street,” CDD general manager Parker Anderson said. “For the 1% we service, it is important and it has an impact. But for the 99% we don’t serve, it is a catastrophe.”