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COMMUNITY REPORT: Saving and transforming lives one Angeleno at a time

When I think about the incredible work being done in my Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD), what comes to mind are the lives transformed, the families touched, the communities lifted up and the people who make it all happen.

I think about change-makers like Cornell Ward. Those who know him best call him “Coach,” and that number grows by the day — Coach Ward is a case manager in our Southeast GRYD zone, and has been working in gang intervention for several years.

Anyone with his experience has a million stories to tell, but Coach Ward will never forget one that began with a 1 a.m. phone call. On the line was a player who he had once kicked off the Compton College football team.

When Coach Ward first met the young man, at the Jordan Downs public housing development, he was mixed up in a gangs and dealing drugs. He hadn’t left that life completely behind — but wanted to, desperately.

When he had a middle-of-the-night epiphany, he knew who to call, as Coach Ward says, to “speak life into him” before he “went back to the ‘hood” and made choices that could derail his future.

He stuck with Coach Ward, turned his life around, and ended up playing for two NFL teams. Today, he’s a college football coach himself. And he pays it forward — taking a special interest in mentoring young people who need help seeing their way out of negative circumstances.

The story resonates with Coach Ward — and with me — because it captures the one-on-one, ripple-effect nature of our mission to make and keep peace in our communities.

“I saw myself in him,” Coach Ward said.

•••

Los Angeles is full of stories like that one, but it has been next-to-impossible to quantify the work we do in GRYD; tragically, but for obvious reasons, it is much easier to count the people we lose than the ones we’re able to save.

I’ve invested millions of additional dollars to expand GRYD’s services and coverage area, because I’m convinced that we can save even more lives.

But we needed to better understand what’s working and how, so we teamed up with researchers at Cal State L.A. and UCLA — who came up with an innovative model that takes us beyond powerful stories, and measures the human scale of the work that intervention and prevention workers do every day.

Led by Dr. Jeff Brantingham, the researchers made some breathtaking discoveries:

• GRYD intervention work prevented 185 gang-related violent crimes across L.A. over a two-year period — from January 2014 through December 2015 — including an estimated 10 fewer homicides and 175 fewer aggravated assaults.

• Overall, GRYD intervention produces 43.2 percent fewer gang retaliations.

• The work is cost-effective: the combined benefit of gang-related crime prevention through GRYD services is estimated at more than $110 million over two years — a number that is less startling when you consider that just one homicide costs the victim’s family and society-at-large $8.98 million, with a single aggravated assault costing $240,000.

We may not know the names of the people who were kept safe, but we do know the most important thing about them: They’re still with us.

And in the work of saving people’s lives — and speaking life into our communities — that one fact is more than enough motivation to keep strengthening our commitment, one Angeleno at a time.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs every month in The Wave.

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