Plan Would Worsen Gang Violence, Critics Say


Probation officials have a $34-million plan to combat juvenile crime in Los Angeles County, but a group of church leaders and activists on Thursday said the plan would do just the opposite and worsen gang violence in their neighborhoods.

The draft proposal calls for placing county Probation Department officers in 85 high schools and 35 middle and elementary schools, where they would oversee students on probation and at-risk juveniles.

Probation Chief Richard Shumsky said the new strategy could mean reassigning probation officers specializing in hard-core gang members, should the increased vigilance inside schools prove to be a better crime deterrent.


A proposal to be submitted to the county Board of Supervisors by March will also include increases in mental health services for juvenile offenders as well as more funding for park safety and community gang intervention programs, Shumsky said.

Although they support those measures, gang counselors and church leaders gathered at St. Alphonsus Church in East Los Angeles to warn that cutting the department’s special gang unit would be a dangerous mistake.

Members of a recently formed coalition of 75 church and community groups, known as the L.A. Metro-Industrial Areas Foundation Organizing Strategy, predicted that hard-core gang members would go unsupervised if the 20-year-old gang unit lost probation officers.

Many of the most troublesome gangsters rarely attend school or are adults, said Mike Duran, a retired probation officer of 38 years who started the department’s gang unit.

“If you take the unit away and no one is keeping an eye on the gangsters in the community, the gang activity is going to escalate,” said Duran, now a counselor with Soledad Enrichment Action, a gang counseling group in East Los Angeles.

Others accused Shumsky of not consulting gang counselors enough before devising a strategy, a charge he vehemently denies.


“We mailed out over 1,000 invitations” to about 40 public hearings during the past four months, Shumsky said. “Some of those people [who were critical Thursday] were at the meetings.”

Father Greg Boyle, who works with former gang members through his nonprofit Homeboy Industries, said he was not among those invited.

To justify the proposed program, “the Probation Department is using a lot of research from the ivory towers in Washington,” Boyle said.

“Whenever only one stakeholder assumes it can handle the gang problem alone, you know you are in trouble,” he said. “It’s not only distracting, it’s a failure.”

Shumsky called such concerns “precipitous” and “confusing.”

“We’re committed to implementing our strategy incrementally,” he said, adding that he will again collaborate with the community as new phases are introduced.

“All we’re saying is that if the school-based strategy is working as efficiently as we think it will, we’ll draw on the gang unit because those officers could then be housed someplace else,” Shumsky said. But he added: “There will always be a gang strategy and there will always be gang workers.”