A delegation of U.S. elected officials and police, organized and led by WOLA, began four days of meetings with counterparts in Honduras and El Salvador on Monday aimed at sharing strategies to curb the gang violence that afflicts those countries and U.S. cities.
The delegation includes Maryland state legislator Ana Sol Gutierrez, Washington, D.C. City Council Member Jim Graham, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's recently-appointed "gang czar" Rev. Jeff Carr, and a leader of Washington's Gang Intervention Partnership, Detective Virgilio Baez.
The purpose of the 12-member delegation is to "share experiences of successful U.S.-based programs that bring together a mix of actors including law enforcement, local and federal government and community groups, with their Central American counterparts," said WOLA's Program Director Geoff Thale.
WOLA, the research and advocacy group, has long studied gang violence and recommended effective policing techniques based on community involvement and respect for the rule of law and human rights.
"The idea is to connect people in the United States who have practical, on-the-ground experience in dealing with gangs, including street-level police, with those in Honduras and El Salvador," said Thale. The U.S. delegation, he said, "has much to offer in terms of experience but also much to learn."
The delegation, led by WOLA's Elsa Falkenburger, Lainie Reisman and Lilia Lopez, met Monday with officials of the Honduran government's National Program for Gang Prevention and the National Police. They will meet in El Salvador on Tuesday and Wednesday with Salvadoran government officials, National Police chief Rodrigo Ávila, gang rehabilitation groups, and religious leaders.
The delegation "has a law-enforcement focus, because we see effective law enforcement as an important part of the solution to gang violence," said Thale. "But we understand law enforcement to mean not indiscriminate repression, but carefully targeted approaches including involvement from community groups."
Roger Atwood, Communications Director, (202) 797 2171