By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Mayor Karen Bass’ decision to increase staff salaries and resources for the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development program has drawn strong support from community leaders.
Annual salaries for the program’s community intervention workers, who put themselves on the front lines to help the Los Angeles Police Department defuse criminal activity, were boosted recently from approximately $40,000 to $60,000.
“A move like this increases the morale of the staff,” said Skipp Townsend, CEO of 2nd Call and one of the trainers for community intervention workers. “Mayor Bass is telling them that she not only respects them but also respects the work they do.”
The salary raise is part of Bass’ $12.9 million budget increase for public safety initiatives throughout Los Angeles that will benefit the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program and other programs. Public safety is a major agenda item for Bass as she begins her second year in office.
“This $20,000 increase is a way for us to take a more comprehensive approach to prevent crime,” Bass said this week. “We needed to make this commitment to the men and women who are on call doing very valuable work in our communities.”
Bass started the groundwork in February when she created the Mayor’s Office of Community Public Safety. She shifted Karren Lane from her role as deputy mayor of community engagement to deputy mayor of community public safety. The move gives Bass more direct contact with community-driven efforts to reduce crime.
“The mayor has always supported capacities for communities to assist in crime prevention,” Lane said. “She wants to elevate the voices of community members to help improve safety.”
The city has contracts with at least 23 nonprofit organizations that provide community intervention workers, who total around 120. Lane said the city is trying to hire more younger community intervention workers. The average age of the current staff ranges from 50-60.
Community intervention workers respond to crime scenes and potential criminal activity, including domestic situations. One of their primary functions is to de-escalate tensions in the community that could lead to retaliatory acts. The workers also play a critical role in getting residents to cooperate with the police.
“Without question, GRYD has helped save countless lives,” said Najee Ali, executive director of Project Islamic Hope. “Many of the workers are former gang members. They have street credibility. People might not want to listen to a police officer or an elected official, but they’ll listen to somebody from GRYD. It’s great that they’re getting the funding they need.”
The Gang Reduction and Youth Development program was implemented in 2007 with mixed results over the years. Staff and supporters often made claims of a lack of acceptance from prior police administrations. Townsend and Ali indicated major progress has been made in that area, mainly because of the shared commitment from LAPD Chief Michel Moore.
“With Moore, we can comfortably sit at the table,” Townsend said.
Community intervention workers might have shown their greatest value in 2019 in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of popular rapper Nipsey Hussle in South L.A. Rumors circulated that the shooting was gang-related and there were fears of retaliation.
“Tensions were high,” Ali recalled. “No one knew who the perpetrator was or if it was gang-related or not. A lot of talking was done to keep things calm. The intervention workers were needed to help with rumor control and outreach. It paid off.”
The shooting was not gang-related, but rather a personal dispute between Hussle and Eric Holder Jr., who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2022 and sentenced to 60 years in prison.’
In addition to more funding for Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, Bass has increased the budget for public safety to provide more resources for re-entry programs, job skills training, mental health support, unarmed response teams and other services.
Lane said her department is aiming to expand a variety of initiatives during the coming fiscal year to improve public safety, including adding more lighting to parks and streets.
“We want to focus a lot more on the families,” Lane said. “We want to be able to provide more support for families and individuals when incidents happen. With the budget increase for GYRD, we can do a lot of things to show our support and stay on top of prevention.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.
“A move like this increases the morale of the staff. Mayor Bass is telling them that she not only respects them but also respects the work they do.”
— Skipp Townsend, CEO of 2nd Call