Investment in Summer Night Lights Leads to a Thriving LA
The Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD)’s Summer Night Lights program isn’t your run-of-the-mill summer youth program aiming to keep kids of the streets. Rather, Summer Night Lights, or as most Angelenos refer to it – SNL, is a community empowerment program investing in LA’s most violence-impacted neighborhoods. Since 2008, SNL has offered fun, positive opportunities during the peak times for gang-related violence, ultimately generating safe environments – essentially, acting as the thermometer in these communities.
You maybe thinking, how does SNL set the temperature for the environment in each of these neighborhoods? The answer lies in the model. The SNL strategy is rooted in GRYD’s comprehensive violence reduction strategy, which includes approaches ranging from prevention to violence interruption, and seeks to engage all community stakeholders along the family life cycle (i.e., from infants to the elderly). It’s important to note this notion of community stakeholders incorporates all members of the community, including those who may be potential perpetrators of violence, as well as those who may be potential victims of violence.
From an outsiders perspective this may seem a bit odd – how can you bring together all these individuals and aspire to maintain peace? This can be explained in four major components:
(1) Extended hours & programming: SNL occurs each summer from 4th of July weekend through Labor Day weekend at 32 recreational facilities across the City, extending facility hours until midnight, four nights a week (Wednesday-Saturday). Programming includes youth and adult-centered athletic, recreational, educational, and artistic activities.
(2) Youth Squad: Ten Youth Squad members are hired at each SNL site to staff the extended hours and programs. The Youth Squad members, ages 17-22, are from the community and at-risk for gang involvement and engaging in gang violence. They receive stipends throughout the summer as well as job and life skills training. In total, 352 youth are hired and provided training throughout the summer.
(3) Intervention/ Cease-fire: Intervention Workers are hired from the community to engage in proactive peace-making activities as well as violence interruption strategies throughout the SNL program. Intervention workers also assist in referring youth to the SNL program, collaborate with program partners, and assist in the implementation of expanded programming targeting gang involved or ex-gang involved youth and adults.
(4) Law Enforcement and Community Engagement: The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is an active partner in the SNL programming. Law enforcement presence at SNL sites consists of active participation and interaction with all community members in activities beyond suppression including sports, provision of community resources, and LAPD program opportunities for youth and residents.
The SNL program, a product of a public-private partnership, has transformed these areas into community centers for families and children to enjoy without the fear of violence, whilst providing an environment for change. The success of this program can be seen in the data. Last summer, the 32 sites collectively experienced a 35% reduction in gang-related crime and gang-related homicides, a 43% reduction in aggravated assaults, and a 55% reduction in shots fired. This seemingly unconventional idea that started five years ago is now a national model for violence reduction during the summer months.