Wednesday, June 13, 2007

THE GANG CHRONICLES: Are We Doomed To Repeat Failed Policies?

By Tony Rafael
Since Mayor Villraigosa has refocused priorities on L.A.’s long neglected gang situation, he’s received no end of advice from activists, gang-experts, wannabe experts, fellow politicians and various stake holders. While all this input is well-intentioned, the quality of the advice ranges from the sound and reasonable to absurd and downright dangerous.

Some of the advice comes from busybodies who sport rose-colored glasses as part of their professional equipment and other forms of advice are stubbornly filtered through the lens of wholly discredited ideologies.

The notion of appointing a gang Czar is one idea that falls into the realm of sound and reasonable. A gang overlord coordinating activities is something that has never been tried before and if properly formulated, adequately staffed and decently funded, a gang Czar’s office is an idea that just might work. Whoever is appointed and however that office is organized, this new bureaucracy (and let’s face it, it will be a bureaucracy) should be given clear mandates, milestones for achieving goals and a clear method of pulling the plug if no measurable results are achieved. Call it an “exit strategy.” The reason we need bureaucratic self-cancellation is that bureaucracies have a nasty tendency to live on regardless of their effectiveness. Dinosaurs are kept alive long after the freeze. Unlike the private sector that can torpedo useless organizations, the government is dedicated to full employment schemes that continue pouring money down various rat holes and maintaining the status quo.

One piece of advice that continues to be offered up for consideration is the creation of “detached worker” programs. The idea here is for the city to hire reformed or non-active gangsters to act as prevention and intervention counselors. The detached aspect of this idea is just what it sounds like. The worker is essentially a field rep operating on the streets with very little supervision or accountability. In fact, the proponents of this idea see a benefit in the lack of supervision and working outside the limits of an org chart.

Despite the fact that detached worker programs have a terrible track record, the concept still has the power to seduce. Otherwise clear thinking individuals fall for it regardless of the lessons of history. In the 1980s, Chicago handed a notorious local gang $1 million to run intervention programs and keep peace in the neighborhoods. The gang used the money to buy drugs and guns to obliterate rival gang drug dealers and take control of the dope trade. In Los Angeles in the 1970s, Project Get Going and similar programs run by alleged reformed gangsters became nothing more than safe havens for drug dealers, extortionists and murderers. They literally used government cars to deliver dope bought with government grant money. And murdered anybody that got in their way.

And more recently, the collapse of No Guns last year underscored the fact that once the government writes a check to one of these detached worker programs, there’s absolutely no supervision, follow-up or accountability.

If our policy makers insist on using detached worker programs, as some appear to do so, they should at least fund it with non-government money. If a private party wants to fund one of these programs, let them take the responsibility for implementation and the liability if the program goes sideways. If a Ted Turner, Bill Gates or other billionaire currently pouring money into overseas projects wants to fund this kind of program let them. Not one detached worker program should get a single dollar of public funding. It’s just asking for trouble.

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