Urban Peace Institute
Safe Parks Save Lives
Harvard Park is surrounded by children and families who deserve a safe place to play, but they are unable to access their local park because of pervasive community violence. The Urban Peace Institute will combat rising gun and gang violence levels by empowering peacemakers and community leaders to create neighborhood safety. New peace ambassadors will collaborate with trained community leaders to reduce violence, and ensure children and families feel safe enough to play at Harvard Park.
Describe the mission of your organization.
With a mission to reduce violence, the Urban Peace Institute (UPI) works on the ground in Los Angeles communities to create safe, healthy, and thriving neighborhoods.
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
- South LA
What is the problem that you are seeking to address?
Harvard Park families are unable to safely visit parks, schools and local stores because of pervasive community violence. These are fundamental activities that promote health and well-being. A local youth recently shared, “There are gangs on the part of the park, and I don’t want to get shot.” Recently, Harvard Park ranked as the fourth highest for violent crime out of 272 Los Angeles neighborhoods. With the historic rise in gun violence, residents are now even more fearful of simply playing within the park and neighborhood. Since January 2021, shootings in South Los Angeles have increased by 234% and homicides are up by 150% compared to last year. Harvard Park has a long-standing history of high crime and gang entrenchment. Yet, the neighborhood remains historically overlooked, experiencing decades of public disinvestment resulting from structural racism, and leading to the highest poverty rates in the region with 34% of residents having a median income of $20,000 or less.
Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.
The Safe Parks Save Lives project will lower gang and gun violence levels within Harvard Park and the surrounding community to establish a safe space for all families to play. To successfully reduce violence levels, UPI will train three new peace ambassadors stationed in local crime hot spots to mitigate gang tensions and stop violent gang retaliations before they start. UPI will also expand its Leadership Institute program to provide civic engagement training to five new Harvard Park residents. After completing our seven-month Leadership Institute’s Emerging Leaders course, these residents will be empowered to lead community-driven safety strategies and coordinate efforts between the new peace ambassadors, public leaders, school officials, and law enforcement officers engaged in the Community Safety Partnership initiative. UPI’s established Harvard Park Regional School Safety Collaborative will also convene 50 participants to further establish neighborhood safety by creating safe routes to schools and parks. UPI will also train four community intervention workers who coordinate the Summer Night Lights initiative, which will work to additionally reduce violence during the summer months by providing safe, family friendly activities at Harvard Park. Moreover, UPI will continue coordinating the Community Safety Partnership initiative to ensure increased community engagement and trust among residents, gang intervention workers, and officers.
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
- Direct impact
- Indirect impact
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
Without a basic level of safety, play is not possible for all Los Angeles children, especially for children of color living in underserved communities experiencing disproportionate levels of violence. While families in Harvard Park have a park in their neighborhood, rising gun and gang violence levels prevent families from feeling safe enough to walk to or bike to the park, and even play within the park. As one youth describes, “the park is really nice, beautiful, but then a body will drop like nothing.” The Safe Parks Save Lives project will work to transform violence levels and reduce crime and gun violence by at least 15% over the next year. Increased safety will ensure families feel comfortable traveling to and from the park, utilizing the playgrounds, and playing on the sports fields. This initiative can serve as a model to help transform parks and communities through peacemakers and local community-based leadership development in South Los Angeles and greater Los Angeles County.
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
In 2017, UPI conducted a community needs assessment which engaged 979 stakeholders to identify residents’ most pressing safety concerns in Harvard Park. It uncovered gun violence and gang activity as the top community issue, with only 33% of residents feeling safe being outside during the day. While the Community Safety Partnership initiative provided additional law enforcement officers, there has not been an equal investment in developing community leadership to coordinate safety strategies, nor an increase in gang intervention capacity to adequately address rising crime levels since COVID-19. To assess the effectiveness of UPI’s efforts in reducing violence and creating opportunities for play, UPI will track violence levels pre and post the program, as well as conduct additional surveys with residents to assess perceptions of safety. We expect crime and gun violence levels to decrease by at least 15% and resident perceptions of safety to increase by at least 10% over the next year.
Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.
UPI will collaborate with its long-time partner, Chapter T.W.O., to provide expanded gang intervention services through the hiring of three new peace ambassadors in Harvard Park. Chapter T.W.O. is a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve community safety in Harvard Park, and throughout South Los Angeles, by providing violence intervention services, youth mentoring, COVID-19 outreach and nutrition assistance to low-income families of color. UPI and Chapter T.W.O. have formally collaborated for over a decade to provide violence intervention services through funding provided by the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development. Chapter T.W.O. will hire and supervise three new peace ambassadors and ensure they work collaboratively with community leaders to reduce violence.
Which of the play metrics will you impact?
- Crime rates
- Gun-violence victims
- Perceived neighborhood safety
Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.
- LA is the best place to CONNECT
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