Safe Passages is a program that communities across the country have used with great success to ensure that their children are able to get to and from school safely. Other communities’ programs have divergent models, but often rely on law enforcement or parent volunteers at key corners, monitoring environmental or traffic hazards that endanger children.
The innovation of Urban Peace Institute’s Safe Passages project is to integrate a powerful network of parent volunteers with the professional efforts of gang violence interventionists, community-based organizations, businesses, school personnel, the Mayor’s office and law enforcement.
This comprehensive effort will keep children safe, with interventionists and police collaborating with volunteers monitoring street action before and after school; community-based organizations and the school district providing coordination and family support; and teachers providing safety curriculum in the classroom. In addition, the LAUSD has agreed to work with the Safe Passages project to create and distribute multilingual public education materials about ensuring safety in and around schools, as well as provide teachers with the training necessary to implement anti-violence curriculum.
Practices to Address Violence and Safety in Schools
For the 850,000 children living in gang violence “hot zones,” the daily walk to and from school can feel like a war zone. Routes to school frequently cross gang territory lines and there’s always the fear of gang harassment, intimidation or being recruited. These barriers can lead to many children missing classes, dropping out of school, and families avoiding public spaces after school.
In the City of Los Angeles, this story resonates with too many families living in communities where violence has become the norm. Currently, Los Angeles leads the nation in gang crime, with more than 1,000 gangs and 80,000 gang members in the County; and approximately 90 percent of Los Angeles students living in these gang violence hot zones are exposed to chronic violence and suffer from increased level of post-traumatic stress.
With statistics like these, it really can feel like a battlefield for many of the city’s children.
In 2015 we released Best and Promising Practices to Address Violence and Personal Safety in Safe Routes to School Programs. It outlines opportunities for enhancing the Safe Routes to School model to include violence prevention and reduction strategies. Download the PDF in English here or Spanish here.
Belmont School Safe Passages Initiative
After an exhaustive process of analyzing both needs and assets in the community, the collaborative focused on one clear problem – ensuring that students and their families can travel to and from school safely, and without fear of harassment or violence.
We call this the Belmont School Safe Passages Initiative. Parents, teachers, police and local business owners are teaming up to staff street corners, escort students and patrol routes to school so that gang members stay away and kids can walk safely to school. What's more, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is instituting comprehensive safety and violence prevention curriculum in the classrooms, to help students understand what they are facing and how to stay safe. Even the Los Angeles Department of Transportation may be joining in to upgrade local streets – one corner at Wilshire and Union is considered the 5th most unsafe in the nation! The School Safe Passages Initiative will:
- Increase student attendance
- Decrease the dropout rate
- Decrease truancy levels
- Increase the perceptions of safety on the part of students and parents
- Increase the participation of students and parents in after school activities
- Decrease crime and violence around participating schools
- Increase academic performance of students
The 2011 pilot year focused on Liechty Middle School and Miguel Contreras High School, working with approximately 15-30 volunteers, 3-6 law enforcement personnel, at least 15 school personnel and thousands of students to coordinate efforts and provide training for maximum impact.
Urban Peace Institute initiated and leads the Belmont School Safety Collaborative, a community stakeholder network made up of 21 community-based organizations, six government agencies, residents and youth. Each partner in the Collaborative has a unique role, with Urban Peace Institute serving as the coordinator of the effort. Through the Collaborative, Urban Peace Institute and our partners have built solid relationships with school officials that serve as the basis for effectively working with them on Safe Passages.
Key Collaborative Partners include:
- Alliance for Better Communities
- Aztecs Rising
- City of Los Angeles, Office of the Mayor
- Los Angeles Police Department
- Los Angeles Unified School District
- Los Angeles School Police Department
- UCLA School of Public Health, Injury Prevention Center
- Youth Policy Institute
Urban Peace Institute has a statewide reputation for providing technical assistance to place-based initiatives in some of California’s most violent urban neighborhoods. And since 2009, Urban Peace has launched and run the Urban Peace Academy, a professional training and certification program for gang intervention workers. The interventionists will be an essential piece of establishing the community engagement necessary to ensure Safe Passages is effective.
Urban Peace has a track record of working with the L.A. Police and Sheriff's Departments, both in encouraging their commitment to community-based policing, and also in providing hands-on training to prepare police more effectively to deal with gang violence and its aftermath in communities. Urban Peace co-founder Connie Rice has worked closely with past LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and current Chief Charlie Beck, as well as with Sheriff Lee Baca, to ensure they understand the power of the comprehensive violence reduction strategy and the vital role community-based policing plays in its success.
Safe Routes to School in Watts
Urban Peace Institute set out to create systemic changes in the communities most impacted by gang violence. Through our Community Safety Scorecard – a thorough analysis of L.A.’s ZIP codes and safety conditions conducted in 2010 – we discovered that the Watts neighborhood topped the list of L.A.’s most dangerous ZIP codes.
According to our analysis in the Scorecard, the Watts community scored the lowest of all ZIP codes in Los Angeles City. When compared to the City of L.A. average, there is twice as much gang-related crime in Watts (4.37 per 1,000 residents), a middle school truancy rate that’s twelve times (54.46%) the city average, a 60% high school graduation rate, and over twice as many families living in poverty (33.8%).
Moreover, we looked at data for the community showing that it was experiencing significant demographic shifts and there is a growing Latino and African-American population. After speaking with over 900 Watts residents, they echoed these findings and agreed that the pathways to their children's schools were too dangerous.
Building Systems for Change
To address this issue, we mobilized a wide range of stakeholders and created unprecedented partnerships to implement Safe Routes to School in Watts.
Communities across the nation have successfully executed a Safe Routes to School program, often relying on law enforcement or parent volunteers to monitor neighborhoods. However, Los Angeles presents unique challenges that other programs have not addressed: chronic gang-related and community violence. With this in mind, Urban Peace uniquely adapted the Safe Routes model in order to make pathways to school safe again and reduce violence in Watts.
In order to impact large-scale change, Urban Peace established historic partnerships between law enforcement and professionally-trained gang violence interventionists, in addition to building a network of students, local schools and businesses, parents and community leaders.
This comprehensive effort will keep children safe, with interventionists and police collaborating with volunteers monitoring street action before and after school; community-based organizations and the school district providing coordination and family support; and teachers providing safety curriculum in the classroom. In addition, the L.A. School District has agreed to work with the Safe Routes project to create and distribute multilingual public education materials about ensuring safety in and around schools, as well as provide teachers with the training necessary to implement anti-violence curriculum.
As part of the Safe Routes initiative, these stakeholders play a critical role in:
- Increasing student attendance
- Decreasing school drop-out rates
- Decreasing truancy levels
- Increasing perceptions of safety for students and their families
- Increasing participation in school activities for students and their families
- Decreasing crime and violence around participating schools
- Increasing students’ academic performance