A "progress report" published recently by the city says the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) has reduced the rate of juvenile arrests, violent offenses, and school disciplinary actions in troubled neighborhoods such as the Central District and Rainier Beach.
Currently, the SYVPI operates primarily in the Central District, the Rainier Valley, and parts of West Seattle. In those areas, the rate of juvenile arrests for violent offenses has declined 20.5 percent since 2009, versus 12.3 percent in areas not served by the program. Disciplinary actions in Seattle schools in those same neighborhoods fell by 11 percent between 2008 and 2010, while they rose by 3 percent in non-SYVPI areas.
McGinn notes in the report that the initiative is still in its early stages but "it is already making a significant impact," and will likely be expanded to encompass more neighborhoods.
A coalition of dozens of city departments and various local organizations, the Initiative takes a comprehensive approach to spotting at-risk youth and connecting them with services to help keep them out of trouble. This includes job training, anger management, and coordinating access to various social services. But the bedrock of the SYVPI is its outreach workers.
Reporting a Seattle Weekly feature story on Latino street gangs earlier this year, I watched firsthand as a pair of outreach workers mentored a group of teens. (One, Carlos Garza, was pictured on the cover of the print edition.) Their work included everything from conflict mediation to dropping kids off at doctor's appointments. Often it was just organizing a cookout at a local park, and providing a safe, positive environment.
Here's an excerpt from that story:
Several of Garza's kids are Interagency Academy attendees, including Sergio Salazar, a 14-year-old with a stocky build and a spiky gelled hairdo. He says he was kicked out of school last year for brawling, and ended up spending his time away from the classroom running the streets with a group of older kids, "just doing stupid stuff, fighting with anybody we see." That sort of behavior is exactly the reason [principal Kaaren] Andrews says Interagency suspended just three students last year, all for fewer than three days.Contrast that approach with the hardline, lock 'em up mentality detailed in this week's feature by Jon Walczak about the efforts to rehabilitate Billy Chambers, the infamous teen involved in the Tuba Man murder, and it's easy to see why SYPVI garners strong support from advocates of criminal justice reform.
Though he tries to act tough, Salazar's eighth-grade teacher, Letta Stewart-Baker, raves about his leadership abilities, and says she expects him to be "one of our top student-government officials" in the coming year. She gives Garza credit for the transformation. "Carlos just gives it to 'em real," the teacher says. "He has changed the whole perception of a lot of the students. When he talks, they're mesmerized. He has them in a daze--he's got them doing that critical thinking."
Asked about his teacher's appraisal, Salazar admits Garza has inspired him to clean up his act. "He told me how he spent most of his life in the penitentiary because of gangs," Salazar says. "I definitely don't want to be like that. I want to have a good life with a job and a family. Not fighting in there."
Even better, the SYVPI is remarkably efficient when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. According to the report, the Initiative had a budget of roughly $3.5 million in 2010, and 92 percent of that went directly toward serving at-risk youth.