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UCLA Luskin Team Tapped to Evaluate National Violence Intervention Initiative  Researchers will analyze implementation of a White House program to equip community leaders and nonprofits to combat gun violence

By Mary Braswell

Two researchers from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have received $250,000 in funding to conduct an evaluation of a White House initiative designed to bolster the capacity of grassroots organizations to combat violence in their communities.

Jorja Leap ’78, MSW ’80, PhD anthropology ’88 and Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, who lead the Social Justice Research Partnership based at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, will conduct an in-depth evaluation to document implementation of the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVIC), launched by the Biden-Harris administration in July 2021.

The 18-month effort aims to equip community leaders and nonprofit organizations in 16 jurisdictions, including Los Angeles, with increased funding, training and technical assistance to reduce gun crime and increase public safety.

The collaborative brings together White House officials, mayors, law enforcement, experts in community violence intervention and philanthropic institutions to share ideas, spur innovation, and scale and strengthen the infrastructure that supports community-led efforts to increase public safety.

Hyphen, the anchor organization managing the public-philanthropic collaboration, selected Leap and Lompa to document CVIC’s activities, including the identification of partner organizations in each jurisdiction, the provision of training and technical support, and the development of a nationwide community violence intervention network. Their research will establish the strategies that have proven most successful over time and recommend approaches for sharing them nationwide.

Over the next year, Leap, an adjunct professor of social welfare, and Lompa will engage in community-based participatory research, including several visits to all 16 jurisdictions. Driven by on-the-ground, ethnographic research, this rigorous effort will produce a documentary narrative as well as recommendations that will guide the initiative’s ongoing efforts. UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students will be actively involved in the evaluation effort.

“Our engagement in this initiative reflects how deeply CVIC understands the need for rigorous evaluation from Day One of their efforts,” Leap said. “Consistent with the values of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, we are committed to delivering participatory research that actively involves community members in the research process. They are partners, not just participants.”

A White House statement in February described the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative as one element in a broad strategy to address the nationwide spike in gun crime since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The collaborative was launched to “help communities assess their existing public safety ecosystem, identify gaps and build the capacity to expand programming that saves lives,” the statement said.

Racial justice, equity and community leadership are central to the initiative, according to the Hyphen team anchoring the program.

“The Community Violence Intervention Collaborative presents an unprecedented opportunity to establish a learning network that dramatically improves our country’s response to violence and reimagines and enhances public safety, ” according to Aqeela Sherrills, the initiative’s collaborative advisor.

The 16 jurisdictions in the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative were selected for their high rates of crime but also their strong support from civic and philanthropic leaders. In addition to Los Angeles, they include Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; Baton Rouge, Louisiana.; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Memphis, Tennessee; Miami-Dade, Florida.; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rapid City, South Dakota; King County, Washington; St. Louis, Missouri; and Washington, D.C.

Leap, a recognized expert in gangs, violence and systems change, develops and coordinates community-based efforts that involve research, evaluation and policy recommendations at the local, state and national level. Lompa has extensive knowledge of nonprofit organizations and capacity building developed over her career in the nonprofit sector, including having served as executive director of a nonprofit organization.

Leap and Lompa are also co-founders of the Watts Leadership Institute, a 10-year initiative to provide grassroots leaders and nonprofits with the training, technical assistance and resources needed to build their infrastructure and knowledge to help advance positive community change. In a meaningful coincidence, the Watts Leadership Institute represents a local version of what CVIC strives to achieve nationally.

Armenta on Repercussions of ICE Collaboration Programs

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Amada Armenta spoke to the Los Angeles Times about increasing pressure to reform the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which has for years been criticized for its treatment of immigrants in detention. The implementation of any changes will fall under the responsibilities of the new director, nominated by President Joe Biden. Some advocates have demanded improved conditions in detention centers as well as the scaling back of programs such as 287(g), which allows for collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement. While ICE says the local collaboration programs are meant to promote public safety, the result is that many undocumented immigrants are reluctant to report crimes to law enforcement out of fear that they will be expelled from the country. Armenta argued for doing away with the collaboration programs altogether. When immigrants are afraid to engage with law enforcement, “that’s bad for all of us,” she said.


Weisburst on Racial Disparities in Policing

Research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst was cited in a Star Tribune opinion piece about racial disparities associated with police presence and crime. Weisburst co-authored a paper that looked at changes in police force size, crime and arrests in 242 large American cities over nearly 40 years in order to draw conclusions about the impact of police presence on different populations. They found that “investments in law enforcement save Black lives … but at the cost of more low-level ‘quality of life’ arrests and all the insults and injuries of intensive policing.” The authors calculated that, on average, one homicide is prevented per year for every 10 to 17 additional police officers employed, but the number of street arrests for low-level offenses, especially for Black civilians, also increases with greater police presence. The paper concludes that “Black communities are simultaneously over- and under-policed.”


Weisburst on Impact of Police in Schools

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst was mentioned in an Axios article about the presence of police officers on school campuses. Some school districts are considering replacing campus police officers with improved mental health services after studies have shown that Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately affected by disciplinary action in schools, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. Weisburst’s research also found that disabled students are disproportionately affected negatively when police or school resource officers rather than teachers and administrators maintain discipline. In her 2019 paper “Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for School Police on Student Discipline and Long-Term Education Outcomes,” Weisburst found that school police presence was associated with a decrease in both high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. Her analysis also confirmed that Black students experience the largest increases in discipline when police are on campus. Weisburst and others recommend increasing funding and quality of mental health services for students.


Researchers Analyze Incidents Involving UCLA Police

Property-related incidents are the most frequent type of police-related event at UCLA, followed closely by incidents involving people whose presence or behavior is deemed disruptive or out of place, without any indication of violence, according to a new report from the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The study examines police activity at UCLA based on data compiled in compliance with the Clery Act, which requires public disclosure by the Police Department at UCLA regarding the nature, date, time and location of incidents, as well as their disposition status or outcome. The researchers use maps and charts to visualize Clery Act data relating to events involving police, plus some fire department responses, in 2014 and 2019, with supplemental information focusing on arrests by the UCPD in 2018, the most-recent information available. Less than 10% of events involve force or threat of violence, they found, and data maps reveal that a substantial amount of UCPD activity and arrests occur off-campus, mostly in the greater Westwood area but also farther afield. Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of public policy and urban planning at UCLA Luskin, helped oversee the study, working with Noah D. Zatz and Jennifer M. Chacón, professors of law at the UCLA School of Law, and Alejandra A Martinez, an undergraduate research assistant at the Lewis Center who studies economics and was the lead author. Their report also found that more than 80% of reported police activity during the study periods did not result in follow-ups for any asserted or possible crime.

‘We Set Our Destiny,’ Becerra Says of Fellow Californians

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra weighed in on the Golden State’s place in a deeply divided nation during a conversation with UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura just hours after polls closed in the 2020 election. As they awaited final results in the presidential race, Becerra told viewers that California’s unique role as an engine of innovation and economic growth transcends any election or individual politician. “Regardless of what happens around us, we set our destiny,” he said. Hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and Town Hall in partnership with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the Nov. 4 dialogue touched on Becerra’s role battling the Trump administration on health care, immigration, climate change and scores of other issues. To date, the state has sued the federal government 104 times, Becerra said. “We go to court against Donald Trump not because it’s easy or it’s fun,” he said. “We go to court because we must protect our people, our values and our resources.” Of urgent concern is safeguarding the environment, he said, noting, “We have lost four years in addressing the climate crisis, and Mother Nature is not going to give us those years back.” As the state’s top law enforcement officer, Becerra called for more police training, accountability and transparency but noted, “Let’s not make it look like it’s a simple thing like ‘defunding police.’ ” He added, “I respect the work that’s done every day by men and women in uniform. I will go after those who have engaged in improper conduct in that uniform.” 


 

Weisburst Research on School Police, Student Success Cited

An Economist article discussing the effectiveness of school police officers cited research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst. In the 1990s, a federal crime bill included funding for “school resource officers,” leading to the widespread presence of police on the nation’s elementary, middle school and high school campuses. The article cited an ACLU report showing that 14 million students attend schools with a police officer on campus but no counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker. Still, many teachers call for reform rather than removal of the officers, according to an Education Week survey cited in the article. Weisburst’s research assessed student success in Texas school districts that used federal grants to hire resource officers. She found that they experienced a 2.5% decrease in high school graduation rates and a 4% decrease in college enrollment.


 

Schoolwide Calls for Racial Justice

Since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, voices from across the UCLA Luskin community have joined the conversation about systemic racism in the United States, shedding light on its roots and leading calls to move toward true justice. The insights have been shared near and far. Here is a sample: Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams told Asian news channel CNA that the wave of protest sweeping the nation has been “massive and powerful … and I don’t see it dying down any time soon.” Ananya Roy, director of the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, has led faculty from across UCLA to stand in solidarity with communities of color and “continue the unfinished work of liberation.” To explain Los Angeles’ role in the current unrest, the New York Times cited the Quality of Life Index produced by the Los Angeles Initiative, which found deep bitterness over the region’s immense income inequality. Public policy lecturer Brad Rowe told local reporters he was encouraging his students to express their support for criminal justice reform. And social justice activist Alex Norman, professor emeritus of social welfare, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram: “For most African Americans, the American dream is a nightmare. … What will it take to change the narrative? What we don’t have, leadership, at the national and local level.”


 

Abrams on Setting Priorities in the Next L.A. Budget

LAist cited Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams in an article about budget cuts the city of Los Angeles is facing amid an economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. At issue is the appropriate level of funding for the Los Angeles Police Department. LAPD supporters say uniformed police have been expected to provide an ever-expanding array of community services, especially during the pandemic. Activists argue that law enforcement funding should not be increased while vital services go underfunded. On a conference call organized by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Abrams said, “Police officers, even when well-intentioned, are not social workers.” Becoming a certified social worker requires special training, including adhering to a code of ethics and gaining the ability to advocate for vulnerable communities, she said, adding, “These skills or training cannot be paralleled by any work in law enforcement.”

Yaroslavsky on ‘Mind-Boggling’ Use of Police Chokehold

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Institute at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fox 11 News about police use of force in the case of George Floyd, who died in custody in Minneapolis. Images of a white police officer with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for several minutes as the unarmed black man pleaded for help have ignited protests around the country. “There is no excuse whatsoever. There is no chief of police who could defend engaging in that kind of physical restraint when somebody is already handcuffed and submissive,” Yaroslavsky said. In his years as a Los Angeles City Council member, Yaroslavsky was outspoken in his criticism of police use of chokeholds. The tactic was banned in Los Angeles in 1982 except in circumstances that call for deadly force. “Nearly 40 years ago, we ended that chokehold, and it’s just mind-boggling to me that law enforcement agencies across the country still use it,” Yaroslavsky said.


Events

Discussion of Qualified Immunity and Police Violence

A panel of guest speakers from UCLA and the field of criminal justice will discuss qualified immunity and police violence in America.

PANELISTS:

Emily Weisburst, assistant professor of public policy, criminal justice expert and researcher

Connie Rice, civil rights lawyer and co-director of Advancement Project of Los Angeles

Joanna Schwartz, law professor and a leading expert on police misconduct

Steven Zipperstein, public policy lecturer, and a lawyer on criminal justice policy