Reading the L.A. Times this morning, we stumbled upon Hector Tobar's breathless column about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's supposed anti-gang program called "Summer Night Lights."
Tobar visits Ramon Garcia Park in Boyle Heights, one of 16 parks in Los Angeles where the lights stay on well past normal hours, and comes to the conclusion that "Villaraigosa gets to issue celebratory press releases that announce
the drop in crime in neighborhoods thanks to 'my Summer Night Lights'
In the very next paragraph, Tobar, who writes as if Summer Night Lights is some kind of far out, groovy, new program, even though it's two years old now, again mentions a reduction in gang violence.
There's only one, major problem: There are NO CRIME STATISTICS to show that Summer Night Lights, in 2009, has reduced any kind of crime in L.A. parks like Ramon Garcia.
After reading the piece, which we first saw online and thought was one of those strange op-ed pieces that people like LAPD chief Bill Bratton write from time to time to trumpet their own glory, we called up the Mayor's Office and asked for the hard facts about Summer Night Lights, which does seem like a cool program for kids and nighttime civic life in L.A.
The phone call didn't take much time, only a few minutes, and a spokesman for the mayor told us point blank: Gang crime statistics, which may or may not give some idea of the success of Summer Night Lights, won't be tallied until AFTER the program ends on September 5.
But the Mayor's Office, which runs the Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD), the sometimes controversial anti-gang agency that oversees Summer Night Lights, did point to last year's crime statistics.
According to Villaraigosa's people, who received their stats from the Los Angeles Police Department, there was a 17 percent drop in "violent gang-related crime" and an 86 percent "reduction in gang-related homicides" in "communities surrounding SNL parks." The LAPD came up with the statistic by comparing crime in those areas in 2007 to crime in 2008, which can be found on the mayor's web site.
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But for gang experts like former LAPD lieutenant Gary Nanson and USC professor Malcolm Klein, even that statistic is misleading since no one knows for sure what constitutes a "gang-related" crime. In April, Nanson told L.A. Weekly that LAPD's gang crime statistics "don't come close to reality."
Villaraigosa and outgoing chief Bratton, who often team up to throw weird crime stats at the public (read, for an example, the L.A. Weekly cover story about Bratton's bogus claim that L.A. is as safe as 1956), also didn't compare crime in Summer Night Lights parks to other parks in the city. Throughout the city, crime had been down in 2008 compared to 2007. Crime at city parks, with or without the lights, probably dropped too -- the Mayor's Office, unsurprisingly, said it didn't have that information readily available.
When the Mayor's Office gets back to us, we'll be sure to let Tobar and the L.A. Times know what's really happening with the Summer Night Lights program.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.