Fernando Rejon, Executive Director
Fernando Rejón serves as the Executive Director after helping to build the Urban Peace agenda for a decade. He established the organization’s Urban Peace Academy as a platform to certify gang intervention workers, train law enforcement on the role of gang intervention and implementing relationship-based policing approaches, and engage public sector leaders on violence reduction strategies. He works to improve community safety by enhancing organizational capacity and supporting four key project areas: 1) the Urban Peace Academy, 2) Training and Technical Assistance, 3) Smart Justice, and 4) Prevention Initiatives. UPI currently supports cities throughout the nation to implement strategies to reduce violence, ensure police accountability, and develop policies to end mass incarceration and increase community-level investment for public safety.
Fernando has over 15 years of experience working in non-profits with a lengthy background in community organizing and program development. He has worked with probation youth, organized and fought for environmental justice, and worked to build bridges between indigenous communities in Mexico and people of color in the United States to fight for justice. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Communication Studies from the University of San Diego and a Master of Arts degree in Chicano Studies from California State University, Northridge.
jacob albert, training administrator
Jacob Albert leads the coordination of the Urban Peace Academy’s Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy. He coordinates trainings to promote the personal and professional development for gang intervention workers, as well as leads various practitioner, service provider, academic and subject matter expert tables. Jacob’s passion for developing alternative approaches to combating community violence arose from his five years as the Associate Director of Employment Services at Homeboy Industries. Previously, he worked with Friends Outside, City University of New York, VOA Crosswalk Homeless Youth Shelter, PEN America Center, LA’s Best, and Lennox School District; freelance writing for Lonely Planet Publications, The NY Press, and The Inlander Weekly; along with teaching positions in China and South Korea. Jacob holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the City College of New York and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Loyola Marymount University.
Nicole Brown, Senior Policy Associate
Nicole Brown supports the Urban Peace Institute’s criminal and juvenile justice reform work through policy analysis and advocacy. A major focus of her work is transforming the Los Angeles Probation Department and developing a countywide vision for juvenile justice including reducing youth contact with the justice system and creating meaningful community leadership in the County’s justice decisions.
Prior to joining the Urban Peace Institute, Nicole worked as a research associate at the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. Her research and writing explored alternatives to arrest and reducing jail populations with special attention to the experience of Latinos and noncitizens. Prior to USC, she was Field Director at Unite Oregon, a statewide grassroots organization working to advance immigrant and refugee rights. At Unite Oregon, she led civic engagement and leadership development programs and worked on issues such as tenants’ rights, police profiling and ending law enforcement collaboration with Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nicole graduated from USC with a Master’s of Public Policy, and received her Bachelor’s Degree from Portland State University. On her free time, Nicole enjoys the beach, hiking, and traveling.
Jessica canales, Technical Assistance coordinator
Jessica Canales supports the development of violence reduction strategies to improve community health and safety. Jessica joins the Urban Peace Institute with many years of experience working with underserved communities in Los Angeles. Previously, Jessica worked with Valley Care Community Consortium, a local nonprofit, to expand health education and health access in communities throughout the San Fernando Valley. She is passionate about advancing the Urban Peace Institute’s mission to reduce gang violence. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Political Science as well as a Master’s Degree of Political Science from California State University, Northridge.
gina dance, coalition organizer
Gina Dance brings together a broad array of stakeholders to focus on community needs and concerns while leveraging community assets to reduce violence and increase safety. Previously, Gina was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru, where she served in an Andean community working in Youth Development. Her main projects included developing life and work skills in youth to create community leaders. She implemented this work in collaboration with the municipal school district and the local government, while also focusing on educating teachers in gender equality to fight machismo in the schools. Gina holds a degree from the University of Arizona.
Gil Espinoza, Senior Associate, prevention programs
Gilberto Espinoza works with government agencies, law enforcement, schools, and community stakeholders to achieve a collaborative and comprehensive solution to violence in South Los Angeles. He coordinates the Watts Latino Leadership Institute, Watts Regional School Safety Collaborative, and supports efforts to advance a Watts Regional Strategy to reduce violence. Previously, Gilbert worked with Advancement Project to promote community safety initiatives. He is a graduate of University of California, Los Angeles.
saul garcia, coalition organizer
Saul Garcia works to improve community health by ensuring residents can safely access schools, parks, and public spaces throughout their community. Saul supports efforts to create safe travel routes for youth and families, trauma prevention efforts, as well as the Urban Peace Academy. He previously worked as a health and housing policy intern at a nonprofit organization that works with South Central residents facing housing challenges. Saul also has several years of experience as a program coordinator for an organization that offers holistic health services to underrepresented University of California, Los Angeles students and staff. During graduate school, Saul worked as a wellness program coordinator for the graduate student body at the University of California, Los Angeles. He holds a Master’s Degree in Community Health Sciences from the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health.
sean garcia-leys, esq., staff attorney
Sean Garcia-Leys works to address the overbroad targeting of communities for gang suppression. Sean leads our community lawyering services and direct legal services. He litigates gang injunction cases on behalf of individuals wrongly accused of active gang participation, provides direct legal services for individuals seeking removal from gang injunctions or gang databases, and seeks judicial and legislative means to end counter-productive and unconstitutional gang suppression strategies. Before joining the Urban Peace Institute, Mr. Garcia-Leys worked for over a decade as a public high school teacher in Watts and Lincoln Heights. Before his career in education, Sean worked as a labor union organizer. Sean holds a J.D. from the University of California Irvine School of Law.
josh green, Esq., Director of Criminal Justice & Senior Staff Attorney
Josh Green leads UPI’s legal advocacy work that focuses on reforming overly punitive criminal and juvenile justice systems, as well as the CalGang database and the Los Angeles County Probation Department. He co-leads the Ramona Gardens Safety Collaborative to build the capacity of residents and community-based organizations to increase community safety and develop the necessary resources to address the needs of families in the housing development. In addition, the Criminal/Juvenile Justice Reform work focuses on supporting and developing policies that meaningfully address the needs of residents in high violence communities. Previously, Josh served as the Equal Justice Works Fellow at Advancement Project, sponsored by Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP and Edison International. As a fellow, Josh developed and implemented a program to minimize the negative consequences of civil gang injunctions in Los Angeles communities and to provide representation to individuals who believe that they have been wrongly added to a gang injunction and/or who have made the choice to leave a gang and wish to remove themselves from injunction enforcement. Prior to his work as a fellow, Josh graduated from Harvard Law School where he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice.
caitlin kosec, development and communications manager
Caitlin Kosec oversees UPI’s fundraising and communications initiatives to ensure a robust foundation of support for the organization. Throughout her career, Caitlin has worked to improve community safety, advance education reform, as well as expand social services available in low income communities. Caitlin previously served as a Grants and Communications Manager for Interfaith Community Services in San Diego County, and supported UPI's violence reduction strategies as a Development Manager for Advancement Project in Los Angeles. Caitlin holds a Masters of Public Policy degree from Johns Hopkins University.
eric lam, MANAGER, Strategic initiatives
Eric Lam leads UPI’s technical assistance efforts which include strategy and program development, comprehensive violence reduction and prevention strategies, policy analysis and reform, and community safety assessments. Eric also supports infrastructure development for gang prevention and intervention services, relationship based policing initiatives, as well as leadership development and training. Prior to his work with the Urban Peace Institute, Eric Lam held positions with the Orange County Human Relations Council, The Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, and Project Access, Inc. He has extensive experience working in low-income housing and in diverse communities throughout California and New York developing and implementing social and educational services and change. Eric is a proud Vietnamese-American from Orange County, CA. He holds bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Urban Studies & Planning from University of California, San Diego as well as a Master of Arts degree in Sociology of Education, Education Policy from New York University.
Tim Shugrue, Manager of Finance and operations
Tim Shugrue manages financial reporting and operations for the Urban Peace Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience as an accounting and human resources professional. Tim has significant prior experience working for nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and law firms in accounts management and financial reporting. Previously, he served as a Finance Manager for Advancement Project. He also works with the Police Assessment Resource Center, a non-profit organization providing oversight and counsel with respect to police accountability and recommended practices, where he serves as an Accounting Manager and Human Resources Manager.