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LA's gang intervention strategy headed to El Salvador in new collaboration

Guillermo Cespedes is L.A.'s deputy mayor in charge of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
Guillermo Cespedes is L.A.'s deputy mayor in charge of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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The Los Angeles Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) has a new $1.5 million grant that'll take the program international.

Gang violence in L.A. has plummeted in the past couple of years. Many attribute that drop to the city’s anti-gang strategy. It focuses on casework with at-risk youth and their families and it uses violence interrupters who dispel rumors and encourage gang members not to retaliate for violence. Now, the city is expanding efforts in the LAPD’s Rampart Division. Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes says a new federal grant will fund 10 people to focus on violence interruption and prevention services in Rampart area – and will provide technical assistance to collaborators in El Salvador.

The Rampart area has a high population of Latinos, particularly people with roots in El Salvador. Cespedes said it was a natural point for a strategy that GRYD has been considering for a while. El Salvador jumped to the forefront for a number of reasons. 

After a series of meetings with anti-violence workers in El Salvador last year, the mayor’s office decided that collaboration could be useful. Some of El Salvador’s largest gangs, like MS 13, started in L.A. And many people, whether by immigration or deportation, travel back and forth between the Rampart area and El Salvador.

“We’ve had a significant role in exporting this culture," Cespedes said. "And I think it’s important to take a significant role in exporting some of the solutions we’ve come up with."

So in a collaboration that seems to have no precedent, gang interventionists in Rampart and in El Salvador will keep in constant contact about overlapping gang-related incidents.

“A prime example," Cespedes said. "There was a homicide of a youth. Part of the family was there, part of the family was here."

And GRYD workers had information on the murder that they communicated to family, friends, and associates of the victim, part of the core of what the program does. Under the new collaboration, workers in both locations will be able to do what L.A. interventionists already do: dispel rumors about why the murder happened, and encourage gang members not to retaliate.

Cespedes said the aim is to expand the concept of “neighborhood” from a local to a transnational place. The project is working with USAID to provide funding on the El Salvador side. It’s expected to be up and running in January.