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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the current debate surrounding the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of CalGang, a secretive statewide database with information about suspected gang members, including their family members, nicknames and tattoos. Since only approved law enforcement has access to the database, it has been nearly impossible for those outside of law enforcement to gauge the integrity of the process or check the accuracy of its records. At least 20 LAPD officers are suspected of falsifying information used to identify gang members, putting additional pressure on the state Department of Justice to reform the system to prevent law enforcement from unfairly targeting people by race and economic status. Leap said the LAPD investigation “is the booster rocket to say this has got to be reformed and it’s got to be reformed not in a superficial way but in a meaningful way.”
Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute, was cited in a Los Angeles Daily News report on the city’s crime rate and gang interventions. Leap attended a meeting between South Los Angeles community members and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore about an investigation finding that some officers falsified data about the city’s gangs. At least 20 officers have been accused of portraying innocent people as gang members in information submitted to the state’s CalGang database. At the meeting, Moore spoke about steps the department will take in light of the investigation. Leap commented that, given its history of brutality in the area, the LAPD struggles to maintain its credibility with the people of South Los Angeles. “Many residents still don’t trust LAPD,” Leap said. “This seems to confirm their worst feelings.”
A new LA Stories episode on Spectrum News 1 highlighted the work of Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, who has changed the narrative surrounding gang members by sharing their stories. As a social worker in South Los Angeles, Leap earned the trust of many current and former gang members and forged bonds with people she now considers family. “I think if each person could hear the story of even one gang member, their views would change radically,” she said during the interview. Leap argued that these communities are worthy of investment and that the people in them deserve our help and attention. Leap has published two books sharing the stories of those she has come to know and is the co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute, which provides community members with the resources to create positive change. “It’s not enough to understand. I had to take action,” she said.
Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award — the university’s highest honor for teaching — at an Oct. 15 ceremony at the Chancellor’s Residence.
Leap joined eight other faculty members and five teaching assistants who were recognized for their impact on students, innovative teaching methods and involvement in the community.
“Jorja was recognized for her engaging teaching which motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “We are deeply proud of her efforts.”
Leap, who joined the UCLA faculty in 1992, was nominated by her social welfare colleagues, who invited former students and community partners to offer letters of support. “The response was tremendous,” said Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare.
In a video tribute aired at the ceremony, Leap said her teaching philosophy revolves around this principle: To those whom much is given much is required.
Leap said she reminds students that, whatever path led them to UCLA, they now have access to world-class resources, teaching and often financial support. They must pay that forward by making their work relevant in the communities surrounding them, she said.
“In my research methodology course, I will take my doctoral students out in the community … to observe the way people live. And then we talk about how does their research inform policy, how does it move the needle? How does their research inform practice, how does it change the way people treat each other, how does it change our laws, how does it change our healthcare, how does it change economics?” she said.
She counsels her students, “Don’t do the easy thing; do the hard thing. Don’t do what’s natural; do what feels scary.”
Leap is executive director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute.
Her research examines gangs, high-risk youth, prison culture and the reentry of the formerly incarcerated into mainstream society. She also serves as an expert witness on gangs and trauma for death penalty cases and other court proceedings.
Social Welfare Adjunct Professor Jorja Leap spoke with BBC World Service’s Spanish-language news outlet about the Fulton clique of the MS-13 street gang. A federal indictment of 22 of the gang’s members detailed brutal acts across Los Angeles, according to BBC Mundo. Federal officials said 19 of those indicted are undocumented immigrants from Central America who arrived in the past three or four years. The Fulton clique actively recruits young people, who often behave impulsively and unpredictably, Leap said. Youths who have experienced poverty, poor education, trauma and mental illness are particularly susceptible to gang overtures, she said. The indictments came as MS-13’s influence in the region has waned. Leap said 1,200 homicides were recorded during MS-13’s boom, but last year the number had dropped to 300.