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Bill Would ‘Professionalize’ Gang Intervention Workers

Emily Udell

Leaders in Los Angeles announced this week a plan to introduce legislation that would create standards for those who work as gang interventionists. Interventionists act as intermediaries between law enforcement and gang members and communities to help suppress street violence.

Congresswoman Diane E. Watson announced her intention this week to introduce a bill outlining the requirements for gang intervention workers. The bill would create guidelines for groups of interventionists seeking funding from federal or local governments. Watson’s legislation is modeled after a program passed by the L.A. city council” last year.

Recently L.A. severed ties with a high-profile group it had contracted because it failed to deliver services and pay workers.

The troubles with the group UNITY T.W.O. and other groups highlight some of the problems that can plague burgeoning grassroots organizations.

Civil rights lawyer Connie Rice was one of the first to call for an overhaul of the Los Angeles’ strategy for combating gangs in a city-funded report on the situation. She said of the recent movement to professionalize the workers, who are working to quell violence work as reform efforts are made:

This is an airplane that is getting built as it is being flown.

Development of ethics codes, certification classes and training schools are among the efforts to create a standards for workers in the field. The move to create these programs and guidelines is to separate those who are dedicated to the work and the wannabes.

There is a danger, of course, to making workers in this delicate field more professional.

[O]fficials also know that if they regulate too much, they risk scaring off the interventionists who are closest to gangs or, worse, causing the community to view interventionists as nothing more than co-opted proxies for the police.

It is a worthwhile pursuit to try and keep these relationships intact without undermining their efficacy.

Los Angeles may be the city with one of the highest incidences of gang violence in the nation, but it is not the only city that relies on interventionists. Many civic leaders and law enforcement agencies have seen the wisdom of working with groups that offer peer counseling — a solution that can make inroads in places where law enforcement simply does not.

For example, Chicago delivers gang mediation through its YMCA. Youth Alive! sends former gang members who were injured in violent incidents to the bedside of hospitalized youth in Oakland and L.A. These are just a few of the many groups across the nation.

I’d like to hear more about how the grassroots groups themselves would recommend strengthening their ranks so that they could continue to secure government funding for their work.

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Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.
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