Making Your Neighborhood Safer : Hearts of the City / Exploring attitudes and issues behind the news

Recent episodes of violence--including the murder of a 3-year-old girl and the shooting of a 12-year-old boy--have spurred widespread public outrage and frustration. Yet there are a number of steps people can take if they want to get involved in making the community safer.

Here are some possibilities:

* Many high schools are becoming beacons by opening their gyms on Friday and Saturday nights. These late-night recreation programs need volunteers. Call your local high school or law enforcement office.

* "Residents need to work in their communities to create positive activities for youths," said Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Tim McBride. "To get involved, call your City Council office, local Chamber [of Commerce] or a service group that will help you find out about Jeopardy programs, which offer activities for youngsters at risk of becoming involved with crime and drugs."

* When the LAPD asked residents in the San Fernando Valley for help in fighting crime, more than 3,000 residents registered as block captains in the Neighborhood Watch program--a cornerstone of community-based policing. A typical block captain might have dozens of residents participating in a Neighborhood Watch group. The group members do everything from keeping an eye on neighbors' homes to conducting, with police training, surveillance on areas hit by taggers or other criminals. Call your local law enforcement agency.

* Many community groups are fighting graffiti and have organized patrol groups and surveillance teams, paint-out days and anti-graffiti workshops. These groups also help police monitor stores by checking to see if merchants are locking up spray paint and markers as required by law. Some volunteers take pictures. To help fight graffiti, call Community Youth Gang Services at (213) 225-1565, the city's Operation Clean Sweep at (800) 611-CITY or Los Angeles County Graffiti Abatement Program at (818) 458-3566.

* Brother Modesto Leon, executive director of Soledad Enrichment Action, urges parents to get involved. "Our parent training program offers alternative education, counseling and 32 parenting groups across the county," he said. "The 22-week session teaches not just parents, but individuals who want to learn how to communicate with gang members. Many churches offer parenting classes, including nonprofit agencies like United Way and the Boys and Girls Club." He said volunteers are needed for everything from fund raising to consoling parents after the death of a child. To get involved, call (213) 267-0321.

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