Parks After Dark: Using Public Spaces to Reduce Violent Crime

We have a feeling Leslie Knope would be thrilled about this.

After launching on June 20th, the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation’s Parks After Dark (PAD) program is in full swing. Kicking off its fourth summer, PAD seeks to foment community solidarity while reducing the rate of violent crime in neighborhoods affected by gang activity. Initially conceived by Parks and Recreation Director Russ Guiney and CEO William Fujioka, it was intended to be somewhat of a Summer Night Lights spinoff (a program which kept parks in gang laden communities open late during the summers). PAD was first implemeted in three parks as one arm of the County’s Gang Violence Reduction initiative (it’s now in six) and has since been an integral part of reducing crime in various neighborhoods by 40% over the course of its first three summers.

According to Regional Operations Manager Mika Yamamoto, creating a sense of conviviality among program participants has been a key part of PAD’s success. “We have had the best outcome, and you can see that reflected in all of the families that come with their kids,” she says. “This program was originally intended for teenagers, but in targeting that population we found that entire families needed to be served as well; Everybody needed to recreate, to exercise in a place that was safe. Having the support of the Sheriff’s department, the community feels safe when they come out to the park, and I think it’s helping their overall wellness.”

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings between 6p.m. and 10p.m., PAD (along with upwards of 100 volunteers) provides recreational activities inluding sports, cooking classes, free concerts and films, and resource fairs all in the name of fostering a safe and enriching shared environment. In conjunction with Choose Health LA, one of PAD’s most magnanimous financial backers, the program seeks to encourage healthier lifestyles. “This is Choose Health LA’s second year helping,” Yamamoto says. “They’re trying to combat obesity, and so they have helped organize walking clubs and hand out information on active living at our resource fairs.”

PAD’s resource fairs are perhaps the most astounding and beneficial service at parkgoers’ disposal. County departments and non-profit organizations gather to dole out generous helpings of counseling, information, and even medical service to anyone willing to ask for it. “Finding services is difficult to do when you’re already a working parent,” Yamamoto says. “Coming to a park where everything is right there is a real help to them. The Department of Public Social Services supplies information about their CalFresh program, the Department of Mental Health offers counseling, Women’s Health has opportunities for low and no-cost mammograms—Public Health, the Los Angeles Public Library—they’re all at these people’s fingertips.”

PAD will offer extended hours in six different L.A. County parks now through August 17th. The parks participating this year’s progam include:

  • Ted Watkins Memorial Park, 1335 E. 103rd St
  • City Terrace Park, 1126 N. Hazard Avenue
  • Jesse Owens Community Regional Park, 9651 S. Western Avenue
  • Pamela County Park, 2236 Goodall Avenue
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Park, 7600 Graham Avenue
  • Loma Alta Park 3330 N. Lincoln Avenue