The City of Los Angeles signed a partnership Thursday with a federal international development agency to help curtail gang crime in Central America through gang prevention strategies successfully created in the nation's gang capital.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal agency dedicated primarily to administering foreign aid, will provide a $1.5 million grant for the city to continue to develop and fund the city's gang intervention and prevention programs, as well as share best practices and technical knowledge that will be applied primarily to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and USAID administrator Rajiv Shah spoke glowingly of Los Angeles' recent achievements in gang prevention and rapid reduction of gang-related crimes.
"We have a lot to learn from Los Angeles," said Shah. "The overall success of efforts here has become a shining example."
The mayor acknowledged that Los Angeles had been a gang epicenter and that the city has the largest concentration of gangs in the United States.
"For years we've know that the city has exported its gang problem," said Villaraigosa, "But now we're known for exporting our gang solutions."
Already the Gang Prevention and Youth Development program has been recognized as a national model. "It's time to make it an international one," said the Los Angeles mayor.
Feds see domestic and foreign gangs as a national security threat. For years organized criminal violence has spilled over borders. They hope that the partnership will bring both security for residents and longer-term economic opportunities.
"Business leaders and investors agree [that] the rise in violence is a critical issue affecting growth and limiting U.S. trade and exports to the region," said Shah. The grant will allow the city to expand its gang reduction program to Rampart – an area with a high concentration of people with Salvadorian backgrounds. Anti-gang organizations in both countries will coordinate together on related gang incidents, according to KPCC.
Researchers found that youth who participated in the gang prevention program made significant gains, according to a report. They also found crime drops in the neighborhoods the program was implemented.
USAID surveyed cities nationally before inviting Los Angeles to the first-of-its-kind partnership. The agency was drawn to the data-driven, evidence-based approach the city has taken.
The city will share best practices for identifying, targeting and educating at-risk youth.
Los Angeles has seen crime rates drop throughout, but gang-related crimes fell at a faster rate. Since 2006, gang crimes have dropped by nearly half from 7,700 to under 4,000.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who worked in the department's gang unit in 1978, says the success has been "absolutely irrefutable."
"This is the right way to address this problem," he said. "Believe me, this comes from a longtime cop who's done this every way there is to do it."