Two weeks ago, PoliceOne brought to our readers part one of a two-part series on gang violence in Los Angeles County. In that segment, we detailed the efforts of L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca to change the paradigm of how law enforcement addresses gang activity.
In part two of this series, we look at the efforts of noted civil rights attorney Connie Rice – second cousin to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – to address gang crime in Los Angeles County.
Rice, who is the co-founder and co-director of the Advancement Project is seeking to get to (and defeat) the root causes of gangs. She is doing so in partnership and in parallel with the suppression and policing efforts of the law enforcement agencies under the direction of LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and Sheriff Baca.
Rice, Baca, Bratton, and others in the Los Angeles area are now taking an epidemiological approach to the gang problem. “You don’t hand out fly swatters for an epidemic of Malaria. You take the entire ecosystem that the disease is an epidemic in and you say ‘what are the vectors?’ and you create a vector control area…You look for everything that empowers that gang and you move that vector.”
Rice says that after 17 years of approaching the gang violence epidemic as a civil rights lawyer that she wanted to do something more to curtail gang activities. Her partnership with Sheriff Lee Baca is a novel approach that looks at gang crime from a holistic perspective, addressing both law enforcement and social factors with equal vigor.
“It doesn’t take a genius to look at a t track record that says, ‘here we are, thirty years later after fighting gangs. I file my lawsuits, law enforcement keeps locking up everybody they can find who is terrorizing these communities, and neither of [us] is solving this problem. We woke up one day and said, is there a smarter way to do this?’
“You’ve got to remember that these are agencies that I used to sue...but now we’re partners because now we realize that neither of us is each other’s enemy. The enemy is the violence.”
It has to be a partnership between faith-based, neighborhood/community, and law enforcement components, Rice says. Furthermore she specifically calls out the need for political leadership to change its mindset.
“Short term politicians do not solve long term problems…therefore you have to have a strategy that forces them to touch this kind of third rail,” Rice says. “‘Tough on crime’ hasn’t reduced the gang culture. Not only do you have to force the politicians to change form short-term photo op, ‘I’m tough on crime’ approaches to this, you also have to get them to understand that you can’t arrest your way out of this, so law enforcement alone can’t solve this. You have to move from a whack-a-mole, isolated, siloed, programmatic, under-funded strategy that does nothing to break the culture of gangs.
“There are two different enterprises here. One is the reduction of gang crime, but reducing gang crime is not the same enterprise as reducing gang culture. Reducing gang culture means that the numbers of kids going into gangs generation after generation declines. Reducing gang culture means that the kids in schools are safe from gang recruiters. There are like 12 things that you can measure to say have you reduced the reach and pull and power of gangs.”
Learn how Rice is working closely with Sheriff Baca – he from the law enforcement side of the ledger and she from the social perspective – in an exclusive podcast interview now available on The Thin Blue Line. Connie discusses with host Morgan Wright new strategies in combating a plague that has claimed more than 5,800 lives in just one decade in Los Angeles County.