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LAPD's Radical Solution For Reducing Gang Violence in Watts

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In the New York Times Magazine this week, John Buntin (who wrote about the LAPD's crooked history in LA Noir) tells a heart-wrenching story about the LAPD finally learning to work with the people of Watts on reducing Crips/Bloods violence in the neighborhood. Watts has been struggling for decades--it was declining economically in the 1960s when the Watts Riots broke out, and since then it's a long, sad tale of drugs, violence, and war with the police. In the late '80s, the LAPD instituted Operation Hammer: "For months, hundreds of officers swept through black neighborhoods on weekends. Every law was enforced. Every infraction became a cause for arrest. ? The approach was as desperate as it was alienating." (One historian called it "anti-insurgency run amok.") But finally, in the mid-aughts, the LAPD tried something new: after yet another series of back-and-forth shooting, Captain Pat Gannon sat down with "30 hard-core gang guys" and listened to what they had to say and asked for help. He says "That day it stopped ? Not slowed down; it stopped." A group called the Watts Gang Task Force now meets every week with top LAPD commanders to talk about "who's feuding with whom, where criminal investigations stand, which are the issues residents are worried about." Many members are deeply involved with the gang world--they're former members or the parents or grandparents of members. This is all backed up academic research that shows that "people care more about how they are treated than about actual legal outcomes" and that they respond to being treated with fairness, having rules and statues clearly explained, and to being given alternatives. And a 2009 study also shows that "just 14 percent of African-Americans had a great deal of confidence in the proposition that their local police officers treated blacks and whites equally, compared with 38 percent of whites who thought so." Besides working with neighborhood representatives, the LAPD has also put 30 more officers in Watts's projects and implemented programs like Summer Night Lights (in which parks stay open late so kids have somewhere to go).

In the last two years, violent crime in the Watts projects has dropped off more than 60 percent and drive-bys "have almost completely disappeared." Violent crime is down about 30 percent in Watts overall.
· What Does It Take to Stop Crips and Bloods From Killing Each Other? [NYT]