Leap on Rising Gun Violence During COVID Pandemic

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in an NBC News article about the increase in gun violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, homicides rose across the country in small and big cities. In Akron, Ohio, six children under the age of 16 were killed over a single four-month stretch, all but one from gunfire. According to Leap, changes in people’s routine punctuated by economic upheaval, job loss, distance learning and other factors also brought individuals into closer contact for sustained periods, heightening tensions and increasing the prospect of violent encounters. She also noted that gun sales spiked, teenagers were out of school, and organized activities and programs ground to a halt during this time. “This is a complex situation with COVID at its heart but with several social dilemmas all interacting with each other,” Leap said. “I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been more of a rise in crime.”

Leap on Finding Meaning in Loss

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in an episode of the UCLA “10 Questions” series exploring the question, “What is loss?” Leap explained that for the past 20 years, gang members have been her teachers about loss. “Loss is unavoidable,” said Leap, who shared the stories of four individuals and the different types of loss they experienced: death, loss of freedom, loss of childhood and redemption. After the death of one former gang member, Leap struggled to grapple with the suddenness of death and the terror that “this could happen to any one of us at any time.” She has found that authentic empathy and humility are the keys to establishing connections that bridge gender, age, race and ethnic divides. “We know we’re going to lose, and yet we attach so deeply, especially to the ones we love,” she said. For Leap, experiencing loss has made the love and the attachment all the more profound.

Leap Explains Research on Impact of Community Policing

A yearlong UCLA Luskin study of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Safety Partnership was highlighted on KCRW’s Greater L.A. show. Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute, led the evaluation of the program, whose goal is to create a collaborative relationship between police and the community. “The research shows that CSP lowers crime to a greater degree than mainstream law enforcement,” Leap said, adding that the study laid out several recommendations for improving the program. Some civil rights activists fear the CSP program does little to solve systemic problems with policing. Many residents of housing projects where CSP officers are assigned support the program. “If it is reducing crime and it is building relationships and, even though it’s got some improvements to make, residents actually support the idea of CSP, what’s the downside?” Leap said.

Leap Shares Insights Into LAPD Program

News organizations reporting on the Los Angeles Police Department’s decision to expand its Community Safety Partnership (CSP) program called on Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap for insights into the origins and implementation of the program. “The idea was to have a specially trained cadre of LAPD officers who would not be gladiators but who would be guardians and would build relationships and partnerships with residents on the ground,” Leap told KPCC’s Take Two. After a yearlong evaluation of CSP, Leap and her team made dozens of recommendations for improving the program. She cautioned that all organizations, and particularly law enforcement, can be resistant to change. “This is not something that’s going to happen overnight. … The change in the DNA of the LAPD is going to take a while,” she said. Leap also shared her expertise in extended interviews on Fox11 News In-Depth, beginning at minute 8:10, and Spectrum News, beginning at minute 4.

Leap on Expansion of Community Safety Partnership

Media reports on the Los Angeles Police Department’s expansion of its Community Safety Partnership (CSP) program cited Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap, who led a yearlong evaluation of the strategy. CSP is credited with reducing crime and improving police relations with residents at city housing developments where the program has been implemented. Leap joined Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Chief Michel Moore and other leaders at a news conference announcing the creation of a new bureau for CSP, which will be headed by the LAPD’s second Black female deputy chief. “I am grateful when the chief says, ‘It’s going to be a blueprint.’ And, yes, we are going to hold his feet to the fire,” Leap said. “The community put us on notice and said, ‘We want policing, but we want a different kind of policing. We want CSP, but we want it to be participatory and accountable.’ ” News outlets covering the announcement include the Los Angeles Times, LAist, NBC4 News and FOX11 News.


Study of Community Policing Program Highlighted

An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Daily News highlighted a UCLA Luskin evaluation of the Community Safety Partnership (CSP) program, launched in 2011 by the Los Angeles Police Department. The program assigns specially trained LAPD officers to work alongside residents to reduce crime by developing youth outreach, sports, recreational and other programs tailored specifically to their communities. The op-ed’s author, City Council member Joe Buscaino, called for expanding the program, describing it as “a radical departure from traditional policing.” He argued that CSP has “proven to reduce crime and establish great relationships and harmony between the LAPD and the community.” The yearlong UCLA Luskin analysis of CSP, led by  Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap, assessed crime data, community-based research, interviews, focus groups and surveys. It concluded that although it is not perfect, the CSP program has reduced crime and made residents feel safer.

UCLA Study Finds Strong Support for LAPD’s Community Policing Program Researchers say crime declines and trust increases when officers work alongside residents to build relationships

By Les Dunseith

Families living in public housing developments with a history of gang violence and troubled relationships with law enforcement are seeing less crime and feeling safer because of a policing program launched in 2011 by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to a comprehensive analysis led by Jorja Leap, an adjunct professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The Community Safety Partnership, or CSP, began in the Jordan Downs public housing development and later expanded to two other Watts locations, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts, as well as Ramona Gardens in Boyle Heights. The program assigns specially trained LAPD officers to work alongside residents to reduce crime by developing youth outreach, sports, recreational and other programs tailored specifically to their communities.

The yearlong UCLA-led evaluation compared crime rates in Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens with computer-generated, synthetic models of demographically similar neighborhoods that did not receive CSP services. The research team also conducted community-based research with officers and residents, logging 425 hours of observation, conducting 110 interviews and 28 focus groups, and completing close to 800 surveys as part of a mixed-methods research effort at Nickerson Gardens and Ramona Gardens. Clear majorities at both sites expressed support for this innovative program.

“Their lives were literally changed by CSP,” Leap said during a May 12 online meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission at which the study was publicly unveiled.

Leap is an expert on gangs whose academic research and community engagement in Watts spans four decades, including the Watts Leadership Institute, a 10-year initiative based at UCLA Luskin. She told the five members of the civilian commission that people interviewed by the UCLA team “felt it was safer to go outside, mingle with people, use green spaces.”

As part of the LAPD program, extra effort is made to bridge communication between officers and residents, many of whom have deep-seated distrust of the police. Leap said a critical component involves officers apologizing to community residents for past mistakes and incidents of brutality.

“We were the enemy — pure and simple — if you had the LAPD uniform on, it was as if you had a target on your back. If there were reports of a shooting, officers were not supposed to come in without back-up,” said one officer interviewed for the report. “That’s all changed. The residents of this community want CSP here, they want this community to be safe. They welcome us.”

The impact on crime is significant. According to the analysis, in a one-year period, CSP has led to seven fewer homicides, 93 fewer aggravated assaults and 122 fewer robberies than would otherwise have been expected at Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens.

Statistics like those, plus the high level of resident support found by researchers, encouraged Leap to recommend to the commission that CSP serve as a model for department-wide LAPD policing efforts. The relationship-based focus could also be helpful in other crisis situations, including public health problems such as opioid abuse or the current coronavirus pandemic, she said.

“It could be extremely useful for epidemic crises, including homelessness and the pandemic,” Leap told the commission. “This is the type of approach that represents a new and important paradigm in law enforcement.”

The program has already expanded beyond Watts and Boyle Heights to housing developments in South Park and San Fernando Gardens, as well as the neighborhood surrounding Harvard Park. That expansion was funded by the Ballmer Group, co-founded by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, and the Weingart Foundation, which, along with The California Endowment and several private donors, were among the seven funders of the $500,000 UCLA study.

The report describes many positive outcomes related to CSP, but it also identified several shortcomings.

“It is not all sunshine and roses,” Leap warned the commission, adding that the community was skeptical regarding the department’s commitment. “This must become part of the DNA of the LAPD and not a hit-and-run program that is gone in a few months.”

Some respondents questioned the level of community involvement in CSP activities, for example, saying that the officers implemented some programs without first seeking resident participation. Many residents — and even some of the officers — also expressed confusion about the specifics of the program.

“Everyone understood it was about relationships. Pretty much everyone understood it was about building trust,” Leap said. “Nevertheless, there was tremendous confusion” about the CSP model and a strong desire from all parties for better documentation of the program’s components.

Leap said the level of support for CSP in the study differed according to demographic characteristics.

Overall, she said, women were the leaders in both of the housing developments that were studied, and women were slightly more supportive of CSP than men. On the other hand, she noted, there were major differences in terms of ethnicity.

Latino residents predominantly supported CSP, Leap said. “Where we got push-back and mixed results,” particularly on community surveys, was among African Americans. The researchers were able to delve into the underlying reasons for this response during their interviews and focus groups.

“It should come as no surprise — African Americans have had the most tumultuous history” with law enforcement in Los Angeles, said Leap, who noted that incidents of police violence against blacks in other parts of the country in recent years have only added to longstanding tensions between the community and the LAPD. “There are many individuals who carry this history and this mistrust.”

In the report, one interviewee said: “Don’t say everyone loves CSP because not everyone loves CSP. There’s some people who think it’s a bunch of bull. There’s some people who are never gonna trust the police. And there’s some people who are waiting to be convinced. They’re waiting to see if the CSP sticks around or — if once all the publicity goes away — then [the CSP officers] go away.”

That concern was echoed in the report, which included a recommendation to increase funding for CSP and a designation of the program as a permanent part of the LAPD’s law enforcement strategy.

Staying the course over time is important to Leap. She pledged that this study will be just one part of an ongoing effort by her research team, which included UCLA Luskin social welfare professor Todd Franke, a methodological and systems expert, and UCLA anthropology professor P. Jeffrey Brantingham, who is a lead researcher for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Gang Reduction and Youth Development program. Also on the research team were UCLA research associate Susana Bonis and UCLA Luskin alumna Karrah Lompa, who served as the project manager. Several students, some of whom grew up in Watts and Boyle Heights, joined project staff in conducting field research and data analysis. A multicultural advisory board helped guide the study and will contribute to follow-up efforts.

The key to the program’s success is cooperation. Leap told the commissioners something she has repeated in public meetings: “The community truly partners with the police — this is not rhetoric but a meaningful model.”

Leap on Police Role in Enforcement of Social Distancing

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to NBC News about accusations that police have targeted minorities more than white protesters for social distancing violations. For example, demonstrators outside the Otay Mesa Detention Facility on April 11, who were protesting conditions faced by detained immigrants, received citations for violating stay-at-home orders and “unlawful use of horn.” However, no citations or arrests were reported at predominantly white beach protests a week later in Encinitas and San Diego. Authorities in San Diego and Los Angeles have enforced stay-at-home orders by issuing a few citations to protest organizers after the agencies were criticized for allegedly unequal enforcement, the report said. According to Leap, the LAPD has shown restraint in its enforcement of social distancing regulations. “The community itself is enforcing stay-at-home,” she said. “The LAPD, thankfully, they have been working with communities, especially communities of color.”

Leap on Gang Intervention Workers’ Commitment to Communities

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in the Los Angeles Times discussing gang intervention workers’ continued commitment to the communities they serve during the COVID pandemic. While much of Los Angeles is shuttered during this time, many gang intervention workers are continuing to interact with vulnerable populations, providing food and toiletries, mediating conflict and educating people about the importance of social distancing. Los Angeles has designated intervention workers as essential during the pandemic. “These are not just those guys who know how to negotiate peace treaties; they are a community asset,” Leap explained. Many of the intervention workers are themselves former gang members and are able to use their street credibility to dispel misinformation and educate people about the coronavirus. “Historically and presently, where authorities are not trusted, these men and women … are the go-between, the objects of trust.”

CalGang Stirs Distrust in Community, Leap Argues

Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the secretive CalGang database. Fifteen individuals placed in the statewide database by the Los Angeles Police Department challenged the designation, and all of their names were removed. One was singer and anti-gang interventionist Larry Sanders, known for his work on Coolio’s hit “Gangsta’s Paradise,” who said he was shocked when informed he had been added to the database. The LAPD says it refers people to CalGang for legitimate reasons, and requests to be removed are rare. “There are very few stories of people getting off the CalGang database,” Leap said. “All of this creates a stew of distrust and people not trying and people not succeeding.”