Public Safety / 2013

Advancement Project: Safe Streets for Watts Students

Advancement Project: Safe Streets for Watts Students

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Advancement Project California

Advancement Project’s Urban Peace program believes that all children have the right to walk to and from school without the fear of gang intimidation or violence. However, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, families and students are fearful to travel outside of their homes to attend school, play in the local parks, and frequent neighborhood stores. Children living in public housing developments are unable walk to and from school safely because of harassment and intimidation by competing gangs who are actively recruiting in and near schools. Local parks and gyms are usually unsafe and often claimed by local gangs, so some of the few recreational spaces for low-income families to engage in physical activity are not being utilized. Urban Peace’s Community Safety Scorecard: City of Los Angeles 2011 reveals that the Watts community ranks as one of the top 10 most dangerous zip codes in Los Angeles with an “F” ranking for safety. Thankfully, Urban Peace is now turning the tide in Watts, creating a safe environment for children to walk to school, ride their bikes, and for families to visit local parks. Our Safe Routes to School initiative will use innovative strategies to reduce crime, violence, and bullying along popular school travel routes. This initiative will unite community member volunteers, educators, local law enforcement officials and public housing officials to ensure that students can walk safely to school. The goal of our Safe Routes to School effort will be that students and families will be safe traveling to school, in school, and home from school. Through Safe Routes to School, our initiative will reduce chronic absenteeism that results from safety concerns and improve student access to safe after school alternatives. As part of Urban Peace’s comprehensive violence reduction strategy in Watts, the Safe Routes to School initiative will build on Urban Peace’s leadership of the Community Safety Partnership, a historic joint effort that has created unprecedented partnerships between public housing officials, law enforcement officers, and community members around a comprehensive violence reduction strategy. Our efforts will directly improve student safety, as well as increase opportunities for children and families to safely travel through their neighborhood. Take Blanca, a gifted science student living in Watts public housing who hopes to become a doctor one day. She has supportive parents and works diligently to complete her homework each night. However, as soon as she steps out of her front door to travel to school, she remembers the gang shootings she witnessed last year on her block. Many of her friends suffer PTSD symptoms from witnessing chronic violence. Blanca is halfway through eighth grade, and she is already intimidated by the gang members that try to recruit her at the park, and is even more fearful to face them on a daily basis on her walk to school. The school Blanca needs to pursue her dreams seems simply too risky and too dangerous for her to attend. However, the Safe Routes to School initiative envisions eliminating the fear and intimidation that students like Blanca, and 3,000 like her in Watts face. When the Safe Routes to School initiative is implemented during the 2013-14 school year, Blanca’s walk to school will be transformed. Instead of having to avoid gang violence, Blanca will see a friendly neighborhood mother asking her how her test went last week. On a corner that she was once too afraid to cross, Blanca will instead pass a familiar police officer working with a trusted community gang intervention worker, both working to ensure students' safety. Upon arriving at school, Blanca will be greeted by a trained teacher and gang intervention worker who have taught her strategies to avoid joining a gang and encouraged her to pursue her dreams to become a doctor. Her teachers will have received violence prevention training and will listen and respond to her campus safety concerns including bullying and intimidation from her peers with appropriate and timely interventions. Because of the support of so many community members, Blanca will now have the confidence to stay after school to attend a study group and her family will feel safe when playing a soccer game at a local park in the evening. As a result of our efforts, children like Blanca will not only have the freedom to attend and succeed in school without fears of gang intimidation and violence, but the entire safety of their community will also be improved. Leveraging our ongoing efforts to improve community safety through our leadership of the Watts Community Safety Partnership, we are confident that the integration of a Safe Routes to School initiative will reduce violent crimes to historically low levels in the Watts community and create safe public spaces for Watts families to engage in physical activities.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

As a result of Urban Peace’s leadership of the Community Safety Partnership in Watts, violent crime has dropped by 53% to 75% within each of the three Watts housing developments over that past year. Law enforcement officials are thrilled by the reduced crime statistics, citing that there has not been a single homicide in the Watts housing developments since August 2011. Community members have reported that residents are now feeling more safe to travel and frequent stores within their community, and there have been notable decreases in youth gang membership and activity. While we are proud of our work in Watts, the Urban Peace program has also had a profound effect in improving community safety throughout Los Angeles.

Over the past 12 years, Urban Peace has established unprecedented partnerships between gang intervention workers and law enforcement throughout Los Angeles, resulting in the lowest crime rates since the 1960’s. Since 2006, gang related crimes have been reduced by 32% and the number of shots fired within Los Angles has decreased from 3,288 to 1,723, representing a 52% reduction. Overall, the crime rate is at a historical low in both the City and the County of Los Angeles. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Charlie Beck credits Urban Peace’s work with contributing to this historic decline. Former LAPD Chief William Bratton hails our success: “The Advancement Project has been a force of nature. They have changed the way things are done in Los Angeles on gangs.”

Similarly, Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Academy, the only publicly supported training program for gang intervention workers, has trained over 1,200 violence intervention workers and 500 police officers to work together towards violence reduction. Recently, our training of community intervention workers that operate the Los Angeles Summer Night Lights program contributed to a 35% drop in gang related homicides last summer in and around the parks where the program operates. Similarly, throughout Los Angeles’ GRYD zones, where our Urban Peace Academy law enforcement and gang intervention graduates operate, there has been a 30% reduction in gang related crime and 42% reduction in shots fired. As crime rates continue to drop, the Urban Peace program is gaining national attention and requests for our innovative technical assistance have come from Seattle, Memphis, and Sacramento.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Urban Peace will work with a variety of public and private stakeholders to implement the Safe Routes to School initiative over the next year. These partners include the LAPD and HACLA, as well as the City of Los Angeles Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD). In addition, we will engage community stakeholders who will act as volunteers to monitor crime hotspots at peak school arrival and dismissal times, train gang intervention workers to assist in our efforts, and partner with local schools to help implement violence prevention strategies.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

The goal of our Safe Routes to School initiative is to improve community safety so that more students are walking to school safely and families can access public spaces for physical activity. Urban Peace will actively collect and analyze data throughout our Safe Routes to School initiative to determine its impact on increasing safety within the Watts community over a five year period. We believe success will be demonstrated through decreased levels of gang violence, as well as an increase in the number of students attending school, and families engaging in physical activity.

To measure our effect in decreasing violence, we will leverage our long standing relationship with the LAPD to access their crime statistics and analyze our progress annually. We will also collect school attendance and truancy data from local schools to see if our Safe Routes to School strategy is increasing the number of students walking and biking to school, as well as decreasing the number of students missing school because of gang activity they have experienced when traveling to school.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Advancement Project’s Safe Routes to School initiative will greatly benefit the Los Angeles community by increasing public safety in one the city’s most violent and poor neighborhoods. We expect that our Safe Routes to School initiative will not only lead to increased student safety in and around schools, but also increased school attendance and decreased dropout rates over five years. Our Safe Routes to School effort will compliment Urban Peace’s leadership of the Community Safety Partnership in Watts, where we provide technical assistance to the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) and the LAPD to implement a historic and joint community safety plan.

Through the Community Safety Partnership, Urban Peace has instructed 45 LAPD law enforcement officers stationed in Watts for five years to implement community policing best practices. We have also trained 15 emerging Latino residents to become leaders of this community safety effort. The Urban Peace Academy is also training a cadre of community intervention and Safe Routes to School workers in Spring and Fall 2013 as part of the City of Los Angeles Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development’s regional.

After just one year after our leadership of the Community Safety Partnership, the results of our efforts have been nothing short of extraordinary, with violent crime rates in Watts at the lowest levels in recent history. Because our Community Safety Partnership will act as a foundation for our Safe Routes to School initiative, we are confident that our efforts will have a profound effect on not only improving safety in and around schools, but also in improving overall community safety and health. When residents feel safe enough to travel in their community, we expect that Watts youth and families will engage in increased physical activity by walking and biking to school, leading to increased school attendance, as well as lowered obesity and diabetes rates.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

In 2050, Urban Peace envisions that Los Angeles has evolved from the gang capital of the country to one of the nation’s safest large cities. We believe Watts can become as safe of a neighborhood as Bel Air. While this future may seem like an unrealistic goal, we believe that if law enforcement and community members continue to work in partnership to implement a comprehensive violence reduction strategy, gang violence can be eradicated even in Los Angeles’ poorest communities. Our hope is all residents, regardless of income level or the socioeconomic status of their neighborhood, feel safe from violence and crime.

We also believe that our efforts to successfully transform the Watts community and implement a Safe Routes to School initiative within an urban neighborhood will eventually act as a model for other Los Angeles communities seeking to increase the number children walking to school. Using our evaluation tools, we will uplift the lessons learned from our initiative to demonstrate how multisector partners can work together effectively to improve safety levels, as well as encourage families to walk and bicycle to neighborhood schools and parks. By expanding our successful community violence reduction strategy and Safe Routes to School model throughout Los Angeles, we hope to ensure that all communities have the health, safety, and opportunity they need to thrive.