Gangs Out of Downey's stature continues to grow

When Gangs Out of Downey (GOOD) landed football great Jim Brown to speak at its annual luncheon last April 22, it was a major coup for the organization. Exactly a month later, Brown's speech and presence still resonate.The high visibility GOOD reaped from the celebrity's endorsement further cements its worth. But even before Brown put his stamp of approval on GOOD, its work of thwarting the inroads of gang culture in the community had already been earning rave notices at the federal and state levels. The state, for instance, recognizes it as a model of a community-based nonprofit intent on helping improve city life. There was a little noticed event, however, that occurred last March 17 in Santa Ana that may in the end prove to be of deeper and more far-reaching significance. The occasion was a press conference in which the 2008-09 Orange County Grand Jury issued a report titled "Education of Parents in the Development of Strategies to Keep Their Children Out of Gangs." The report addressed gang prevention and gang intervention efforts in Orange County. GOOD chairman Dr. Robert Jagielski and former chairman Darrell Jackson were both invited to attend. The reason was not farfetched: GOOD and its arm, the 10-20 Club, were prominently mentioned in the report. Jagielski avers that an invitation like this, GOOD being an operation of another county, is unheard of. It was a clear acknowledgement of the soundness of GOOD's program and its adjunct, the 10-20 Club. Jackson and Jagielski later fielded questions from the Orange County press corps. The Grand Jury basically looked at how Orange County (its probation officers, district attorneys, etc.) was handling the problem of how to prevent children from joining gangs. Its findings both surprised the body and confirmed the effectiveness of some of its "excellent" programs. One item that particularly caught their attention was that the ideal target age for working with high-risk children was at the elementary level, and not children of middle school age as was initially thought. Another was that one of the most effective, if not the most effective, ways of preventing children from joining gangs in most cases is to engage their parents as well from the start. In any case, the report contained a Vanderbilt Law School study that said the typical career criminal imposes about $65,000 in costs through age 12 and about $230,000 through age14, but that throughout a lifetime of incarceration, these costs "aggregate to nearly $5.7 million"; and that thus, the savings may indeed be enormous if juveniles can be prevented from becoming career criminals (stated in another way, it said "effective early intervention not only saves the taxpayer money in the long run, it also saves many of Orange County's citizens from the tragedy [and ensuing emotional strain] caused by the frequent violence of gang activity"). The Grand Jury found that Orange County indeed harbors some excellent and effective gang prevention/intervention programs in its midst, among them the District Attorney's Tri-Agency Resource/Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET), which focuses on the "most violent, hardcore" gang members, as well as its Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership (GRIP) program, which targets children who are young enough to be reached before they join gangs ("Stop crime before it starts"). Then there are the youth and family resource centers, youth leadership academy, the 8 percent early intervention program ("8 percent of juveniles are chronic repeat offenders due to such factors as delinquent peers, a pattern of stealing as well as drug or alcohol use, family neglect/abuse, school-related behavior aberrations such as truancy/failure in class/expulsion"). The search for solutions involving gang culture in Orange County also includes the role played by privately run organizations. "Although these organizations are not within the Grand Jury's jurisdiction," the report said, "they are worthy of mention because of their effectiveness in the prevention and intervention of gang activity." It cited the work being done by boys and girls clubs, "KidWorks" ("This group transforms neighborhoods in Santa Ana by building on the strengths and potential in the community through education, character formation and personal development"), court-appointed special advocates (CASA), etc. The report also cited what is referred to as the "Pio Pico Collaboration," considered Orange County's premier school-based program spearheaded by teachers and the principal of Pio Pico Elementary School in Santa Ana. The program provides a social safety network for students who are struggling academically, and seeks to reduce school failure, truancy, classroom misbehavior, and violence and gang involvement. That said, the Grand Jury posits the need for continued financial support of these programs. Referring to GOOD, the report said it is "one of the most impressive examples of effective intervention programs in Los Angeles County." It describes how students identified as at-risk youth begins at Downey Unified School District's (DUSD) Pupil Services Program (administered by Jagielski), which refers them to the 10-20 Club (run by Jackson, with an assist from Ernest Caldwell). Jagielski emphasizes that the whole program is a "collaborative effort with DUSD, the city of Downey, the Los Angeles County probation department, the Family YMCA of Downey, and the city's Parks and Recreation Department," even as it counts on the support of local residents, civic leaders, business ow3ners, city staff, law enforcement officials, as well as city, state, and federal elected officials. A significant passage in its glowing report on the GOOD program runs: "One of the most effective aspects of Downey's program is its incorporation of local businesses into the gang prevention efforts. The city has a full-time coordinator to lead the effort. Local businesses benefit when gang activity including tagging and crime diminishes and, for this reason, they are willing to donate both money and goods to help rid the city of gang activity This is a vital action and one that is not fully utilized in Orange County (itals. mine)." A full description of GOOD and the 10-20 Club forms Appendix 2 of the report. Meanwhile, commitment and hard work by members of the Downey Police Department are paying off, says Police Chief Roy Campos. He says that the FBI crime index in Downey for the first quarter of this year is down 16 percent. This means an over-all decline in homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft cases. But we all know that crime, as well as the insidious activity of gangs, will always threaten the peace. "It is our job," Campos says, "to make citizens not only be, but feel, safe. To achieve this, we have to stay at all times vigilant."

********** Published: May 22, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 5