AURORA | City Council members finalized plans Monday to fold Aurora’s Youth Violence Prevention Program into a former anti-gang program, while debating whether to focus more resources on gangs.
Aurora’s Gang Reduction Impact Program was active between 2011 and 2018, and connected around 70 youths with an outreach team that also delivered gang awareness presentations, distributed program information at schools and community events, and performed risk assessment and case management work.
The program ended when voters opted to get rid of the red-light enforcement cameras in 2018. In 2017, the cameras added about $2.4 million in revenue for the city, much of which went to funding mental health programs, providing services to domestic violence victims, aiding people experiencing homelessness and addressing youth violence.
Discussion about the future of the youth violence programs have taken place as council members have debated the extent to which youth violence and gun violence overlap, prompted by high-profile incidents such as the November shootings at Hinkley High School and Nome Park.
Christina Amparan, manager of the Youth Violence Prevention Program, said A-GRIP would focus primarily on reaching “high-risk, identified gang members” rather than the broader demographic of “at-risk and high-risk youth” targeted by the program, but she added that “most of our violent crime is not being committed by identified gang members.”
Councilmember Angela Lawson said she was “disappointed” by Amparan’s comments and said she believes the program will have the ability to impact at-risk youth more broadly and be more effective with its greater focus on intervention for those potentially involved in violence.
“We need to be more aggressive on intervention, and prevention is important, but this is what this establishes,” Lawson said. “Youth are getting shot every single day.”
Council progressives objected to what they called the “narrowing” of the program’s focus. Crystal Murillo said she felt like the move away from the more diverse community programming of the existing YVPP was reneging on commitments made by city officials to the community.
“I do not support the fact that we are going to be reducing the potential impact of services that the community has asked for,” she said. “I feel like we said one thing to the community, and now that has changed.”
“I refuse to say that youth prevention is gang reduction. They are not synonymous, and that rhetoric really frustrates me. … That is one part of a larger conversation about violent crimes and our youth.”
Councilmember Juan Marcano also said he thought the city should be doing more to address the underlying socioeconomic factors that contribute to violent crime, which prompted Francoise Bergan to say that she thought that was a long-term problem.
“We’re talking about, right now, kids shooting each other and killing each other, and we need to address this problem immediately,” Bergan said.
The council voted 7-3 to reorganize the YVPP, directing 80% of the program’s funding toward intervention efforts and the remaining 20% toward prevention programming. Councilmembers Alison Coombs, Marcano and Ruben Medina voted against the change.
While Murillo voted in favor of the resolution, she said that she was only doing so to retain the right to call the item up for reconsideration at a later meeting.
I didn’t have any expectations concerning that title, but the more I was astonished. The author did a great job. I spent a few minutes reading and checking the facts. Everything is very clear and understandable. I like posts that fill in your knowledge gaps. This one is of the sort.
Thank you, Max Levy, for the good reporting on the controversy regarding broad youth biolence prevention programs and the emphasis on gangs. I was disappointed that the emphasis on gangs narrowed the scope of prevention. I’m glad that Council Member Murillo will have a chance to bring it up again to try to put prevention and social services ahead of stereotyping and criminalizing.
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