LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An evangelical minister was appointed on Wednesday to head a new initiative against violent gangs in Los Angeles, which has been dubbed the gang capital of America.
The Rev. Jeff Carr, a minister in the Church of the Nazarene, will oversee a $168 million effort to create youth programs and other initiatives to counter a dramatic rise in murders and drive-by shootings among an estimated 720 street gangs.
Carr will help co-ordinate an anti-gang strategy unveiled earlier this year by police chief William Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the son of immigrant parents who grew up on the city’s tough east side streets.
Gang experts say members are drawn from every ethnicity -- Asian, blacks, Latinos and whites. Most are high school dropouts who join gangs for status and excitement but many of them do not expect to live beyond the age of 20.
The first stage of the new strategy began in February, when for the first time police publicly named 11 of the city’s worst street gangs and their members and put some members on the FBI’s national most wanted list.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved a $50,000 reward for the person who tipped off authorities to one of those named -- the notorious Monster Kody of the 8-Trey Crip gang who was arrested in March. He is accused of beating a man so badly he needed facial reconstruction.
City officials have also pledged to better direct and expand the city’s existing 23 gang prevention and intervention programs that range from tattoo removal and sports training to parenting classes and tutoring.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” Carr told a news conference. “We have got to figure out how to provide opportunities to communities who have been bypassed for years.”
Los Angeles saw a 14 percent overall increase in gang-related crime in 2006. One area on the suburban San Fernando Valley saw a nearly 160 percent rise in such violence. Police say the estimated 40,000 members of street gangs were responsible for 56 percent of the 478 murders in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca told reporters earlier this year that “Los Angeles county and city is, unfortunately, the gang capital of America.”
In addition to his work as a minister, Carr also worked in Los Angeles for 17 years for a foundation that runs faith-based programs for low income youth.