Youth programming at North Hills park aimed at deterring gangs, crime

 In blog, Crime News: Los Angeles Daily News

Youth programming at North Hills park aimed at deterring gangs, crime

by Elizabeth Chou

For the past 10 years, North Hills resident Aida Medina has taken her children to parks in Sylmar and other neighboring communities to avoid letting them play in the one across the street from her home.

The North Hills Community Park on Parthenia Avenue was where “bad things” happened, the 46-year-old said.

“There were drive-bys, drunk people and bad stuff,” Medina said. “I was frustrated, I don’t want to see that. We can’t can hang out there, when they’re here.”

The park has had a reputation for years as a place frequented by gang members. But on Thursday, the it was filled with young people kicking around soccer balls, teenagers cracking jokes in the bleachers and children perched atop jungle gyms.

Amid all the activity, Los Angeles Police Department officers were sprinkled throughout the park, chatting with parents and their children who had come to enjoy the music, food and games that accompanied the announcement of new events and programming set to roll out in the coming months.

Some of the changes were spurred by the new soccer field and other improvements city officials unveiled in February. The activities are part of a crime-prevention effort led by the LAPD’s Mission Division known as PAL (for Police Activity League) announced this week.

The programming comes ay the direction of City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who spoke during a brief ceremony on Thursday.

“We knew that something was missing,” Martinez said. “We knew that the kids in this area and in this community needed to feel a connection and feel safe when they come to the park.”

The idea behind the program is to have police officers be in the park during times when families and children are likely to be there to participate in or host the activities, serving as role models.

And as a side effect, it is hoped that their presence would ward off gang members. Instead of criminal activity:

  • The Disney animated movie Zootopia will be screening at the park.
  • Other sports, arts and craft and exercise activities have also been scheduled for the summer.
  •  In the fall, there will be after-school tutoring, parenting classes, domestic violence workshops and a Spanish-language emergency preparedness course.
  •  And in the future, there will be music lessons that could eventually give birth to a youth mariachi band.

LAPD Mission Division Captain Natalie Cortez said that the program was about a year in the making, and was a way to “engage our youth, provide an alternate to gang life and create a safer community,” in an area that she described as having a history of “gang crime.”

For Medina, the law enforcement presence helped put her at ease. While a deejay blasted oldies in the background, the mother of seven children said that she was impressed by the lively and friendly atmosphere brought by the smiling police officers, as well as and the blue-clad youth police cadets playing in the field.

The changes are “something really positive,” she said. “It’s just more families. It just feels better. I’m going to start doing more things here.”

The PAL program is geared to children ages 9-14, but there will also be programming available for adults such as the parenting and domestic violence classes. And she is eager to enroll her children in the music lessons, and to have them join the mariachi band.

Medina said she and her children had been staying in a shelter, before finding a place in a new apartment across the street from the park. That was 10 years ago. It was not until this week that she said she decided that they would skip the car ride.

“We’re walking over here!” Medina told her children.

All credit goes to Elizabeth Chou
Originally published on

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