A summer park program aimed at reducing gang violence in some of the city's highest crime areas, kicks off next weekend and will continue through September. Summer Night Lights, now in its fifth year, keeps 32 L.A. parks open after dark -- during prime hours of gang activity -- with an assortment of programs for kids and teens.
"It’s offering the kids in the community a place to go do something," LAPD Newton Capt. Jorge Rodriguez told OnCentral."We have basketball games … there’s food... there’s various activities that they do with them, from arts to sack races to anything and everything that has to do with competition."
Newton is one of the 12 areas targeted in the Summer Night Lights program; along with neighboring areas of Southwest, Southeast and 77th Division. Each of these geographic areas are GRYD zones; districts that the mayor's Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program focuses on because rates of violent gang-related crime are at least 400 percent higher than elsewhere in L.A.
The boundaries of Newton's GRYD zone is 1.7 square miles of neighborhood between 24th and 34th Streets to the North, Slauson Avenue to the South, Alameda Street to the East, and Central Avenue to the West.
On Wednesday on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Lights' official July 7 kickoff and introduced the Youth Squad members who will be working for the summer program throughout the city. Amanda Parsons of the mayor's office said that these employees, age 17 to 21, are made up of L.A. youths who are classified as at-risk of joining a gang.
“The positive learning experiences they receive through training and program implementation will stay with them long after the summer is over,” said GRYD Development Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes in a statement.
The program will take place at 32 different parks, including Ross Snyder and South Park in South L.A. Every Wednesday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to midnight, these parks will host family activities, sports, arts and educational programs for residents.
"What I’ve noticed is its become a family event," Rodriguez told OnCentral. "It’s not just for the kids, but I think that with the hot summer nights and all that, it also affords the parents the opportunity to get out of the house and do something different."
Since the program began in 2008, they have served almost 2 million meals across the city, said L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck on KPCC's Patt Morrison Show Wednesday.
"I wish we could do this in every park," Beck added.
In 2011, the police department saw a 35 percent reduction in gang-related crime over the summer in areas surrounding the parks involved in the program, according to a press release from the city.
“We must always strive to provide our youth with positive alternatives to enrich their lives, where they live and play,” said Beck in a statement. “We must continue to develop partnerships with our youth organizations and community members in order to effect change in youth culture. This program works and we look forward to another successful summer.”
This year the program will run until September 1.