Cities for Peace: Police, former gang members work to reduce violence in South L.A.

SOUTH LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Through a program called Cities for Peace, officers and former gang members have been doing yoga, meditating and learning skills to take back to their communities such as South Los Angeles.

Bo Young helps lead breathing exercises. It's not so unusual until you learn more about him.

"I've been out of jail maybe 25 years back and forth," he said.

Then, see who's sitting nearby.

"Me and law enforcement didn't have a good rapport at the time," Young added.

The former gang member is among 40 people, including LAPD officers and fellow gang interventionists, who for two months have practiced meditation, yoga and deep discussion.

"When you work with gang members, you see a lot of violence, so when you breathe, take a step back and breathe, it really relaxes you," Young said.

Cities for Peace is aimed at reducing violence in South L.A.

"I was not receptive at first. When I came into the parking lot, I see the chief of police and it's like snap. Time to go," said former gang member Petra Funtila.

Who encouraged her to stay? Deputy Chief Dennis Kato, who wanted to see if the program could bring people together to reduce violence. He says more than 230 people have been shot so far this year in his area, up by more than 20 compared to this time last year.

"I think what's lacking sometimes in Los Angeles is the sense of community. We don't know our neighbors, we're too busy, or in a violent area many times people lock themselves in the house, stay with their family and there's no social interaction," Kato said.

With award in hand, these graduates, non-violent ambassadors say they hope to share what they've learned with others.

"Be the change you want to see in the world, so that's the message of this program," said program director Mandar Apte.

Hoping for change-one breath at a time.

For more information on Cities for Peace, click here.
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