The Philanthropy Collaborative

Regional Case Studies

Summer Night Lights
Los Angeles, California




The Los Angeles Summer Night Lights program was launched in 2008 in eight parks in Los Angeles, all in areas with high levels of gang activity. It ran for two months and hosted hundreds of local residents. The program included an increased police presence at participating parks, and intervention workers negotiated ceasefires, so that gang members could attend events even if the park was in a rival gang's territory.

At first, Summer Night Lights wasn't intended to be a major component of the city's gang reduction program. However, while the program was running in 2008, there was only one gang-related homicide in the areas surrounding those parks, compared with seven over the same period in 2007. Overall violent gang related crime in the areas surrounding the Summer Night Lights sites dropped 17 percent and aggravated assaults dropped 23 percent, a feat which city officials say helped led to the safest summer in Los Angeles since 1967.

Buoyed by those results, the city doubled the size of the program in 2009. The budget nearly tripled, and the city hired a total of 160 young people to help staff the program. Once again, crime rates around the parks tumbled. The program added another eight sites in 2010, bringing the total budget to $5.4 million (including $2.1 million in private contributions) and the number of sites participating in the program to 24. That summer, there were hundreds of thousands of program participants.

"In 2008, people told me that they didn't want Summer Night Lights in their community because they thought it was only going to bring gangsters and problems to the parks," said SNL Program Director Alicia Avalos. "Now people are saying, 'We need this in our neighborhood.' It's for every member of the community. Everyone feels safe enough to come to the park."

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