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Crime & Justice

Guillermo Cespedes, LA anti-gang czar, takes strategy to Central America

Guillermo Cespedes is the outgoing head of the LA Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
Guillermo Cespedes is the outgoing head of the LA Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Guillermo Cespedes, director of Los Angeles' Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, will leave his job on Thursday for a new position with Creative Associates International, an organization that works to reduce violence and improve education programs in Central America.

For the past four years, Cespedes fought gang violence in L.A. with innovative programs that included using ex-cons to convince gangsters and wannabes to take another path. The strategy has contributed to an historic drop in crime

Related: A conversation with LA’s outgoing anti-gang czar Guillermo Cespedes

"When a community feels threatened, the typical response is to use handcuffs and arrest people," said Cespedes in a statement released by his new employer. "Unfortunately, it didn't work in Los Angeles. In fact, it only strengthened gang identity and membership.”

Creative Associates was interested in Cespedes' track record of success.

"His proven experience and holistic vision will greatly assist communities in Central America and elsewhere that want to live in peace," said CEO Charito Kruvant.

For more than a year, Cespedes has been traveling to El Salvador and Honduras to observe how gangs native to Los Angeles have migrated south as a result of deportations. Mara Salvatrucha and its rival 18th Street gang have strong footholds in Honduras and El Salvador.

"Los Angeles and Central America are tied together at the hip, so it is a logical step for me,” said Cespedes.

Under his leadership, gang intervention workers in L.A. have played a key role in preventing retaliation shootings by rushing to crime scenes and calming rivals. Prevention workers have concentrated their efforts in the most violent neighborhoods and worked with police, schools and community organizations to provide services to young people and thwart their recruitment into gangs.

His efforts have won praise from Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

Cespedes, a native of Cuba who grew up in the United States, has spent much of his career administering community service programs. Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hired him in 2009, after Cespedes’ Summer of Success program curbed gang violence in Baldwin Village.

He attended Sacred Heart University and Columbia University and is married to longtime L.A. radio host Dominique DiPrima, who currently hosts The Front Page on KJLH 102.3 FM.

Cespedes will be on AirTalk Thursday at 11 a.m.