Success: Overhaul of California Gang Databases

The Urban Peace Institute (UPI) is proud to announce that Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed A.B. 90, a bill that mandates a massive overhaul to California’s shared gang database system.  For the past two years, UPI acted as a leading advocate for change to California’s gang databases, which unfairly labels over a 100,000 California residents, including children as young as two years old, as gang members.  

This legislation will initiate a comprehensive purge of individuals unjustly included on shared gang databases and establish Department of Justice and community oversight of the system in the future. Notably, the shared gang databases will no longer be accessed by federal agencies for immigration purposes.

 “Gov. Brown’s passage of this bill acknowledges what we already knew from the California State Auditor report. The system was fundamentally flawed and needed basic oversight,” commented UPI Criminal Justice Program Manager & Staff Attorney Josh Green.

 “The most important result of this legislation is taking the management of the gang database away from local police agencies and putting it in the hands of the Department of Justice,” further adds Staff Attorney Sean Garcia-Leys. The bill mandates the creation of an advisory committee inclusive of community and civil rights leaders who will oversee the continued use of the database, as well as the removal process for individuals still included in the database. The bill also mandates reporting of data about this once secret system.

Following our successful advocacy campaign, UPI will continue to directly represent individuals who are unfairly tracked and labeled within the system, and ensure their removal from the database. We will also protect clients from having unproven gang allegations shared with ICE. These efforts will ensure that California’s once flawed database system does not lead to deportations, and the prevent the devastating separation of families between borders. 

Read more about our Smart Justice work, and from Staff Attorney Sean Garcia-Leys


UPI Applauds Recent Arrest Reductions in Los Angeles

The L.A. Times recently reported a seemingly troubling statistic, arrest rates are “plummeting” throughout California. However, the recent reduction in arrests throughout Los Angeles is cause for celebration, not alarm.

While the article suggests increased police accountability and public scrutiny lowers officer motivation, it fails to recognize the growing contribution of gang intervention and relationship based policing efforts that simultaneously reduce crime and arrest rates. UPI is proud to lead Los Angeles’ Community Safety Partnership initiative which conducts LAPD officer training and community leadership development to prevent and reduce violence.  This initiative has reduced both violent crime and the number of arrests by more than 50 percent in three Watts housing developments.  

The Urban Peace Institute believes modern policing calls for forming authentic relationships and trust with community. We applaud the City and LAPD for recently expanding the Community Safety Partnership model to Harvard Park.

The article cites a decline in the use of field investigation cards as concerning for officers. However, the harms of these practices have been well documented in a recent state audit. UPI is an active leader in representing children and adults appealing their inclusion on California’s gang database, and discourages the use of often unjust labeling through practices such as field investigations. UPI is also working with partners on system wide reforms to end the use of highly controversial CalGang database in Los Angeles and across the state.

Learn more about recent news regarding the Community Safety Partnership, and CalGang database reform efforts:

LA Mayor Garcetti Announces New Expansion Community

CalGang Audit

CalGang Report

UPI team at the launch of the Community Safety Partnership in Harvard Park

Promoting Safety in South Los Angeles

With four recent homicides on the border of Harvard Park in the last year alone, it became clear a new safety strategy was needed in this long overlooked South Los Angeles community. Together, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, and Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson recently announced the expansion of the innovative Community Safety Partnership model to address rising violence.

The Urban Peace Institute will lead efforts to expand the Community Safety Partnership by first guiding a three-month community needs assessment effort to engage over 500 residents and stakeholders. “This assessment will be an essential tool in capturing community voice and reflecting their vision to increase public safety,” commented Urban Peace Institute Executive Director Fernando Rejón. This effort will also prove crucial in developing effective violence reduction strategies, as this majority Latino community has historically lacked representation in guiding community initiatives.

The Urban Peace Institute will then train 25 law enforcement officers, who will make a five-year commitment to serving the Harvard Park community. Our trainings will focus on promoting effective relationship based policing strategies to build trust between residents and officers. “We will work alongside this community until this community has control over its own safety,” said Police Chief Charlie Beck.

The expansion to Harvard Park will leverage our past success in leading the Community Safety Partnership in four underserved public housing communities in Watts and Boyle Heights. In Watts, violent crime has now decreased by more than 70% in the housing developments, and youth arrests have been cut in half. The Community Safety Partnership’s effective track record has also led to the philanthropic support of the Weingart Foundation and the Ballmer Group for this new effort.



Connie Rice, Advisory Board Chair, addresses the latest Urban Peace Academy cohort

Launch of New Urban Peace Academy Cohort

The Urban Peace Academy recently launched a new training session to promote effective violence reduction and community policing strategies. This 12-week training program is currently engaging 27 new participants in Los Angeles, who are learning proven public health approaches to improve safety in the region’s most underserved communities.

Academy graduates complete this innovative program with a new understanding of the professional standards essential to guide successful gang intervention efforts to ensure safer neighborhoods.  “Our training provides a lot of information, and a lot of tools in the tool box to reduce community violence,” remarked Melvyn Hayward, a veteran Academy instructor and Executive Director of the H.E.L.P.E.R Foundation.  “With the understanding that majority of intervention workers were formally gang involved, we also help officers learn the tremendous transformation individuals have to go through to now keep peace on the streets.”

To date, over 2,600 gang intervention workers, law enforcement officers, and community residents have been trained to work collaboratively in promoting health and safety across the nation. While the Academy’s latest cohort is based in Los Angeles, recently, the program successfully trained 20 participants working to reduce and prevent violence within Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.




Life Under Gang Injunctions: Creating Pathways for Removal

As a recent article from Buzzfeed highlights, life under a Los Angeles gang injunction can have severe consequences. For Echo Park native Peter Arellano, his inclusion on a gang injunction makes it is illegal for him to see his father. “It’s like you’re free, but you’re in a prison at the same time,” described Arellano. (hyperlink:

While gang injunctions were pioneered to restrict gang movements and meetings during the 1980’s, today, these practices continue to have life altering consequences for young men like Arellano. Of the 9,400 Los Angeles residents subject to gang injunctions - less than 50 have ever been removed.  

“The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office has a process for removing people from a gang injunction, but it can be long and arduous,” said Josh Green, criminal justice program manager and staff attorney with the Urban Peace Institute.

The Urban Institute has worked diligently to assist to residents like Arellano to appeal their inclusion on gang injunctions. “In some cases, it took two years, and this included a client who had never been arrested for anything” commented Green.

Learn more about Arellano’s story

Reforming Los Angeles Gang Injunctions

As part of the Urban Peace Institute’s commitment to ending the mass incarceration of boys and men of color, our team partnered with the ACLU of Southern California and Youth Justice Coalition to uplift civil rights concerns through a lawsuit against the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.

While gang injunctions seek to curtail otherwise legal activities to prevent violence from escalating in gang entrenched communities, residents of color are often unjustly labeled as gang members through these orders. The City Attorney and LAPD wide discretion to determine whether a person wears certain brands of clothing, hangs out with other suspected gang members, or spends time in suspected gang areas should be included on an injunction. Unfortunately, this broad criteria often criminalizes young men and boys of color based on their neighborhood residence. The Urban Peace Institute believes this wide discretion to determine gang membership, as well as the inability to provide a clear process for appeal and removal from gang injunctions, violates due process rights.

“Police and prosecutors shouldn’t be able to decide to arrest a person for ordinary activity like walking down the street with a friend or drinking a beer in a restaurant, just because they think someone is a gang member,” commented Carmen Iguina, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “Due process means that the government can’t restrict a person’s freedom without a hearing or other opportunity to be heard.”

ACLU Demands: Gang Injunctions Must Go

Federal Lawsuit Alleges Gang Injunctions Violate Due Process



Getting Off the List: Life Beyond Gang Injunctions

Getting Off the List: Life Beyond Gang Injunctions

Anthony Blockman, who grew up in Venice’s Oakwood neighborhood, is one of the few former gang members who has been successfully removed from a gang injunction with the help of the Urban Peace Institute. Despite taking a positive path in his life and working in steady construction job for over a decade, Blockman was still included in listing of active gang members.

After hearing of Blackmans struggle to be recognized a contributing and peaceful community member, Urban Peace Institute’s Staff Attorney, Josh Green, represented Blockman in his daunting 18-month journey towards removal from the Oakwood gang injunction. “Most people never have a hearing before an injunction goes into place,” commented Green. “I have clients who are on gang injunctions but have never been arrested in their entire life.”

Learn more about Anthony’s story: