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Los Angeles program on gang violence found to reduce violent crime

In 2007, the Los Angeles mayor’s office launched a program to respond to gang violence. A new study estimated the effect of the program on violent and property crime. The study found that violent crime dropped in areas where the program offered services, but property crime did not decline. The success of the program, which does not participate in suppression and deterrence efforts driven by law enforcement to reduce violent crime, can inform other efforts to address gang violence.

The study, by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and California State University-Los Angeles (Cal State LA), appears in Justice Evaluation Journal, a publication of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

“Our results suggest that comprehensive gang violence-prevention programs can have a significant impact on crime,” explains Jeffrey Brantingham, professor of anthropology at UCLA, who led the study. “Achieving ongoing, sustainable decreases in violent crime is not only consistent with the goal of public safety, but importantly, uses programming that is community-based and driven by social equity and justice.”

The City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program was conceived as a comprehensive response to gang violence. Unlike many such approaches, although the public health program partners with local law enforcement, it does not participate in police efforts to suppress or deter crime. GRYD incorporates activities to engage the community (including services for families of at-risk youth), prevention programming to reduce the allure of gangs, direct service intervention programming to lessen gang embeddedness among youth involved in gangs, and collaborative efforts to interrupt violence and stop retaliations.

While it is difficult to disentangle the effects of multi-pronged programs such as GRYD, strict geographic eligibility criteria limits the program to 23 areas in Los Angeles; this allowed researchers to estimate the combined effects of GRYD services on violent and property crime in those areas while using the areas where the program is not available as a control group. The study ran from 2005 to 2017.

Researchers accessed information from a GRYD database of all reporting districts maintained by the Los Angeles Police Department. They examined violent crimes (e.g., homicide, aggravated assault, robbery) and property crimes (burglary, car theft, and burglary theft from a vehicle), without distinguishing gang-related from nongang crimes.

The study found that GRYD services generated significant reductions in violent crime but no reduction for crime overall. Specifically, violent crime declined about 18 percent in areas with GRYD services, which translates to a 20 percent reduction in aggravated assault and a 17 percent reduction in robberies. There was no effect on homicides. Property crimes such as burglary and car theft did not decline, while incidences of burglaries from vehicles rose.

“The GRYD program is notable because it operates largely outside the purview of law enforcement,” says George Tita, professor of criminology, law, and society at UCI, who coauthored the study. “In the current politically charged atmosphere where the actions of local law enforcement are being highly scrutinized, this program offers an alternative to gang violence-reduction strategies that rely on suppression activities.”

Among the study’s limitations, the authors note that they were unable to identify how specific parts of the GRYD program (e.g., community engagement, prevention, intervention) affect crime patterns, and they could not measure the effects of how the GRYD program interacted with other crime-prevention programs. In addition, the study did not disaggregate crimes based on whether they were committed by gang members.

“That GRYD services appear to have significant impacts on crime even though their primary focus is not crime suppression is remarkable,” says Denise Herz, professor of criminal justice and criminalistics at Cal State LA, who coauthored the study. “Our results should encourage other cities to consider such a comprehensive approach in addressing gang violence.”

Summarized from Justice Evaluation Journal, The Impact of the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) Comprehensive Strategy on Crime in the City of Los Angeles by Brantingham, PJ (University of California, Los Angeles), Tita, G (University of California, Irvine), and Herz, D (California State University-Los Angeles). Copyright 2021 The Authors. All rights reserved.

Contact Information
Caitlin Kizielewicz
Crime and Justice Research Alliance
(412) 554-0074