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Paramount (CA) Tackles Gang Prevention with Schools, Sheriffs' Cooperation Effort

By Paramount (CA) Mayor Diane J. Martinez
April 25, 2005

On April 27, 2005 The U.S. Conference of Mayors will convene a National Summit on Gangs in Washington, DC. This summit will bring together mayors and police chiefs from across the country to discuss gang intervention and gang violence prevention efforts in their cities, and provide an opportunity for the sharing of ideas regarding the best ways to target law enforcement efforts at gangs who recruit at-risk youth in America. The meeting is sponsored by the Mayors- Institute for Community Policing which is supported by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) of the U.S. Department of Justice.

For more than 20 years, the city of Paramount (CA), in conjunction with the Paramount Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, has developed and implemented a gang prevention program for pre-teen youth called Gang Resistance Is Paramount (GRIP). GRIP was created in 1982 because of local concern about increasing youth gang activity in the community. In that year, over 350 youth in L.A. County were murdered due to gang violence.

The GRIP program consists of four basic components: an eight- and fifteen-lesson elementary school gang resistance curriculum that is taught to second and fifth graders by GRIP counselors; a ninth-grade follow-up program; anti-gang counseling for youth who are at the beginning stages of gang activity; and gang-awareness/youth-gang-prevention workshops for parents that are held in the community throughout the year.

The GRIP program is operated by Paramount's Community Services and Recreation Department and is staffed by city-employed counselors who are knowledgeable about gang activity and have been specifically trained for GRIP.

Using Community Services and Recreation Department personnel to address the traditional public safety issue of preventing youth gang activity is an expansion of the concept of involving resources beyond the Paramount Police Department in community policing efforts. With today's demands on law enforcement, city departments must help with aspects of community policing; substantial cost savings can be achieved. Not only that, but in Paramount's case, this has translated into program longevity, as well as allowing more officers to patrol the streets and interact with residents.

Annual evaluations are conducted to document details such as the number of participants and the numbers of classroom presentations and parent/community workshops. Additionally, "summary evaluations" that assess program effectiveness are conducted on a regular, ongoing basis. The most recent study, completed last year by the University of Southern California, found that since the inception of GRIP, there has been a significant decrease in major gangs, gang members and the ratio of gang members to residents in Paramount.

One of the earliest studies tested elementary school students before and after participation in the program. Prior to participation, 50 percent of the students were undecided about gang involvement — after participation, over 95 percent responded negatively toward gangs. Also using a pre/post test design, the second study included a control group that was not exposed to the program. Unlike the group that participated in GRIP, the control group showed no change in their attitude toward gangs (50 percent undecided) over the same period of time.

Another study tested sixth-grade students who participated in the program in the fifth grade, and showed that 90 percent still responded negatively toward gangs. The next study tested ninth graders who took part in the program while in the fifth grade, and showed that over 90 percent of the students indicated that they were staying out of gangs. Yet another study followed-up with 3,612 former program participants, ages 13-22, and found that 96 percent were identified as not involved with gangs.

Establishing a gang prevention program was a springboard for other city departments to look at what they could do to impact quality of life issues that would help deter gang activity. Since a deteriorated community appearance tends to contribute to gang activity, the Community Development Department embarked on an ambitious commercial and residential rehabilitation program. New shopping centers were built. Commercial buildings have been refurbished. Street landscaping projects are ongoing. Code enforcement officers work with residents to get them to improve dilapidated property. The Public Works Department aggressively removes gang graffiti on public and private property in the community seven days a week.

The Community Services and Recreation Department has expanded recreational opportunities that are offered to young people beyond the traditional mainstream activities (football, baseball, basketball). If necessary, fees are even waived for low-income youth.

The community has been involved in GRIP by advising the city during the program's development and by attending GRIP workshops. GRIP staff maintains a high visibility in the community by attending and participating in local functions and interacting with parents and youth on a regular basis outside of GRIP events. More than 1,000 parents have attended GRIP meetings.

Gang prevention should not be just left up to the police, churches, non-profits and faith-based organizations. Cities must utilize all resources to attack the problem head on.

In addition, give your program a name, like GRIP, that is easy for community members (especially children) to remember. From the onset, enlist the support of your school district.

Cities must take responsibility and ownership of gang problems in the community.

For more information about the GRIP program contact: Tony Ostos, GRIP Program Manager, City of Paramount, 16400 Colorado Ave., Paramount, CA 90723, Telephone number: (562)220-2120, Fax: (562) 630-2713,