Leap Highlights Paths to Upward Mobility for Youth

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap joined the 30 for 30 podcast “The King of Crenshaw” to discuss the role that gangs play in Los Angeles. “If our culture in L.A. is a tapestry, [gangs] are several threads that run through that tapestry — the good, the bad, the ugly and the understandable,” she said.  The podcast focused on how the life and death of rapper and community activist Nipsey Hussle deeply impacted the sports world, particularly NBA players. Leap noted that many Black youth in South Los Angeles pursue basketball and rap as paths to opportunity and hope. While not the only options for upward mobility, they don’t require any special equipment but do depend on raw ability and talent. “The minute you’re busy playing sports, you’re less busy with the hood, pure and simple,” Leap said. “You can’t take the hood away without putting something in its place.”

Leap on Complicated Origins of Gang Activity

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in an ABC 7 News segment about the complicated history of gang activity in Los Angeles. “People think that gangs are about criminal activity, but they’re really about economics,” Leap said. She explained that when factories in South L.A. began to close down in the 1970s, job opportunities and income narrowed and created a vacuum for gang activity. “Thousands of people lost their jobs, and the area never recovered,” she said. “You don’t see the pain that goes into gang membership and the reasons why people join gangs.” Leap said the Crips, one of the oldest gangs in the South Los Angeles area, have been involved in significant social services in addition to gang activity and criminal behavior. “To understand the Crips is to understand a very lengthy, very complex picture of a street organization that began in the Southern California area,” she said.

Leap Sees Violence Exacerbated by Pandemic

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about the disproportionate rise in homicides targeting Latino and Black victims. “It speaks to the two Los Angeleses,” said Leap, pointing to the significant disparities in public safety across the city. Communities of color have been disproportionately burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to an increase in drug disputes and violence, she said. “Drug dealing is not a peaceful endeavor,” Leap said, and the violence it spawns has been “exacerbated literally by hunger, by worse poverty, by people not having enough money, by people being desperate.” Furthermore, many programs aimed at reducing gang activity and violence were put on hold during the pandemic. Leap explained that people who had relied on such programs were driven into a spiral of despair by their collapse, and she predicted that the increased violence will only stop once those programs are back in place.

A Spotlight on Community Policing Research

A USA Today opinion piece written by former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and prominent civil rights lawyer Connie Rice highlighted research on community policing led by Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap. Beck and Rice were part of a team that launched Los Angeles’ Community Safety Partnership (CSP), which they described as a “ ‘whole of community’ alternative to paramilitary enforcement that changes neighborhood conditions to boost safety, build trust, cut police use of force and drop violent crime with fewer arrests.” After conducting an extensive independent review of the program, Leap’s team concluded that with CSP,  “the community feels protected and strengthened.” Beck and Rice wrote that Americans want policing that is holistic, racially fair and effective, but that true criminal justice reform is blocked by a lack of political will to dismantle the “labyrinth of exclusion” created by pervasive inequalities in the nation’s systems of employment, health, wealth, education, housing and justice.


Leap on Public Safety After L.A.’s Leadership Transition

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the Los Angeles Times about how to address rising rates of gun violence, one of several issues that the next L.A. mayor will face. While some city leaders have expressed a desire to reform the duties of the Los Angeles Police Department, including moving away from armed responses to certain calls, the city is facing a surge in homicides and gun violence. As of July 3, homicides had increased by nearly 41% compared to the same period in 2019 and the number of shooting victims increased by nearly 40% in the same period. Leap expressed concern that the gun violence could spark a public backlash against community policing programs and partnerships with gang intervention workers. “What terrifies me is that people will say, ‘Crime is increasing, we’ve got to stop this,’” Leap said. “And they’ll go back to the bad old days of command-and-control policing.”

Trust Is Easily Shattered, Leap Says

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap appeared on a Fox11 News panel discussion about the growing fight for social justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and other Black victims of police brutality. Watching the cell phone video of Floyd’s final moments was like “watching a home movie that I was sorry to see,” Leap said. “Why are we watching this again and again?” Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of Floyd’s murder, but the fight against systemic racism continues. “What was so upsetting about recent events and what happened in Minneapolis that had affected people here is that trust is so easily shattered,” Leap said. “We need real change … so that people can feel safe.” The panel discussion took place after an episode of the documentary series “Rising Up” that focused on parallels between the Floyd case and the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police.

Leap Explains Increased Violence During Lockdown

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to California Healthline about the spike in homicide rates in California during the pandemic. An increase in conflict among young adults, including gang activity, and the closure of schools, sports and community programs led to an increase in violence that disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities. “The sports after school — football, basketball, whatever it might be — all that is stopped,” Leap said. “So, frankly, you got a lot of adolescent and young adult energies out there.” She also noted that pandemic-fueled anxiety and isolation corresponded with a huge increase in gun sales, which further contributed to the rise in violence. As California slowly reopens, Leap said, it will take a broad effort to bolster jobs and education, along with short-term intervention aimed at those still hurting from the pandemic, to improve the social conditions that contributed to the increase in homicides.

Heavy-Handed Charges Don’t Decrease Crime, Leap Says

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report about the dropping of charges against an Augusta man who had been detained for nearly two years. Maurice Franklin had been accused of taking part in a 2019 gang-related drive-by shooting in which no one was injured, even though his cellphone data showed that he was 20 minutes away from the crime scene at the time it occurred. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration has pushed heavy indictments for all gang-related crimes in the state, including the Franklin case. However, the new measures have been criticized as draconian and unnecessary. “Heavy-handed charging decisions like those made early on in this case haven’t been shown to drive down crime,” Leap said. “They can also lead to further mistrust of police, particularly in communities of color.” All 22 defendants charged in the Augusta case were people of color.

Partnership Aims to Build Bonds Between Community, Police

An ABC7 News report on the Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Safety Partnership (CSP) outreach cited a UCLA Luskin report that evaluated the effectiveness of the program. The LAPD launched CSP to address rising tensions between police and the public and build trust within the community. Although the program was initially met with skepticism, officers met with community members to establish trust and transparency. In 2020, Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap authored a report evaluating the success of the CSP. The report found that the program improved resident perceptions of safety, built trust, helped reduce dangerous conditions, and allowed residents to gather together and enjoy public spaces. It also found that the partnership reduced crime and gang violence and helped prevent homelessness. The report is now being used to endorse the expansion of similar programs.

Tensions Rising During Pandemic, Leap Says

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in an NBC News report about the rise in violent crime during the COVID-19 pandemic. After years of remaining steady, gun violence and homicide rates skyrocketed in 2020. Many experts point to tensions associated with the pandemic as the source of increased violence, including unemployment, health concerns and racial tension. People following stay-at-home orders have more idle time, and conflicts are more likely to escalate. “We’ve got people that are under tremendous strain, and quite honestly, sometimes people just snap,” Leap said. Many people are facing joblessness and economic insecurity, and these issues have been exacerbated by conflicts between police and communities of color. “People feel unsafe … because of the mixed picture we are getting of law enforcement that is based in fact, not fiction,” Leap explained. “All of these things contribute to heightened emotions and heightened violence.”