By ALICE WALTON, City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Gang-related murders and aggravated assaults decreased between July 4th and Labor Day in the communities surrounding eight parks kept open late and providing youths with sports and arts activities, police and city officials announced today.
The 'Summer Night Lights'' program was a $1 million initiative that kept parks open until midnight Wednesdays through Saturdays in communities that had four times the number of gang-related crimes compared to the rest of the city.
There was one gang-related murder in the areas surrounding the eight parks between July 4 and Sept. 1, compared with seven during the same time last year. Aggravated assaults decreased from 84 last year to 65 this year. The number of gunshot victims dropped from 42 to 23, and the number of shots-fired reports decreased from 74 to 50, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
There was one reported rape this year, compared with none in 2007. Robberies also increased -- 57 this year compared with 56 in the same period in 2007. The park programs were overseen by 80 at-risk young people, ages 17 to 20, who received training and were paid for 10 weeks of service. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Summer Night Lights was not just about reducing crime but giving teenagers opportunities to better themselves and their communities.
'It's about saving kids. It's about giving them alternatives,'' Villaraigosa said. 'You get kids off the street, you give them a job. You've got programming, you've got role models. You're telling them 'hey, you've got to get out of gangs. You've got to take care of your family. You've got to get an education'.''
Police Chief William Bratton said his visit to Ross Snyder Park on East 41st Street in the Newton area demonstrated why the summer programs are needed in crime-plagued neighborhoods. 'There must have been 800 people in the park and listening on theradio, three blocks away ... a drive-by shooting is occurring as we pull up. I believe that was the only murder in proximity to those parks this summer at night,'' Bratton said.
The $1 million effort was paid for with donations from The Weingart Foundation; The California Endowment; The Ahmanson Foundation; The Eisner Foundation; The LA84 Foundation; The Wellness Foundation; Wells Fargo Bank; The Hauptman Family; and an anonymous donor. In addition to Ross Snyder, the participating parks were:
Overall, crime is down in the city of Los Angeles. There were 84 murders in June, July and August -- the lowest figure since 1967 when there were 79 homicides during those three months. Homicides are down 8.5 percent compared to this time last year, and gang-related killings have declined 27 percent, according to the LAPD.