LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Three unlikely heroes have created a liaison with city officials to rebuild the streets of Los Angeles amid a time when gang-related violence continues to escalate nationwide.
Former gang members Alfred Lomas and Reynaldo Reaser -- who once hailed from Bloods, Crips and Florencia 13 -- and hardened social activist Aquil Basheer now work as professionally trained community interventionists to mend the communities they once destroyed.
According to the trio of men, the presence of gang activity continues to spread within Los Angeles County with heightened levels of violence appearing in south, southeast, central and southwest areas.
In fact, police are currently aware of more than 450 active gangs, which have a combined membership of more than 45,000 people, operating in the city of Los Angeles.
"Since evil knows no boundaries, we as a society must meet gang violence and criminal activity with equal or greater force to dissolve and interdict the gang culture intent," LAPD Officer Stinson Brown remarked. "The difference in gang-related crime today is that human trafficking has replaced the illicit sale of cocaine. Additionally, the gang culture is more vogue today, sporting designer brands and in some cases have educated themselves to blend in and better go undetected."
In an effort to curb violence, Lomas, Reaser and Basheer continuously monitor areas that are notorious for attracting gangs such as liquor stores, alleys, homes, specific streets and parks.
The men receive tips about crisis, gang activity and other hostile issues from a variety of sources including community members, city officials and schools.
"Our goal is to attempt to diffuse the crisis or dysfunction, create temporary normality, stabilize the individuals or situation, determine the needs and wants of the people involved and try to find acceptable options," Basheer explained. "We never patrol with officers and we don't work for the Los Angeles Police Department. We don't pass information [along] nor do we provide intelligence. We have a respectable coexistence because we operate as public safety intervention first advisors."
When a crisis call is reported, the men verify the tip, develop a plan of action, view a crisis map to gauge safety in the area and determine their route of travel before providing assistance to victims and their families.
According to Reaser, education acts as a fundamental element to ensuring the safety of communities.
"Lack of education is going to cause people to do what they do," he explained. "If they don't know better, and don't have skills, they're going to do what they're doing."
While gang violence prevention remains a priority, the trio of men also focus their efforts to helping children stay in school and providing families with support for employment.
"My message to gang members is that really anyone can change no matter how hopeless life may seem," Lomas concluded. "If I can change, anyone can. There has to be a willingness to leave the old lifestyle and to learn. You have to have the strength to do what's right in an area where sometimes right isn't always the proper thing to do."
The true story of Lomas, Reaser and Basheer has been captured within a documentary film called "License to Operate," which showcases their redemption efforts to heal the wounds of communities across Los Angeles.
The film was released by Los Angeles creative agency Omelet in June.
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