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Former rival gang members working together to promote peace in gripping documentary

Advertising agencies aren’t known for telling community stories unless there’s a paying client attached to the project. They also aren’t generally known for producing feature-length films. But when Omelet, a Los Angeles-based ad agency, found itself in a position to tell a powerful story about its own city, it jumped at the chance.

In speaking with AdWeek, Omelet’s chief content officer, Mike Wallen, said, “We were asked to produce a short film for a fundraising gala for A Better L.A.,” a nonprofit serving individuals and families who are affected by gang violence. “Immediately we recognized the importance of what they were doing, and felt compelled to turn this into a longer narrative.” Over four months, Omelet employees spent their “down time” collecting no less than 150 hours of footage. It would take another year to piece together the story into what would eventually become License to Operate, a feature-length documentary.

The beautifully shot film tells the story of an alliance formed between the Los Angeles Police Department and several former gang members for the purpose of performing community outreach where it was most needed. In the aftermath of the 1991 police beating of Rodney King, there was widespread distrust of the LAPD in many of the communities it was supposed to serve. As part of the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute (PCITI), ex-gang members who once were rivals come together to promote peace in their communities. They are granted a license to operate (LTO), meaning to serve as liaison between gangs and law enforcement, to affect change at the street level.

The seemingly risky program has had a profound effect. Since its inception, gang violence has been on the decline, and L.A.’s murder rate recently hit a 20-year low. Aquil Basheer, who founded the LTO movement and who has 40 years of experience working in gang intervention, credits the success to the trust PCITI has been able to build with community members.

“We don’t work for the LAPD, we are not the LAPD’s snitches, and we do not pass intel to the LAPD,” he tells AdWeek. “Individuals realized the need to secure public safety, and most realized it would take a unified effort. Our expertise needed to be on board to make the process effective.”

License to Operate is available for purchase on iTunes for $9.99. For more information, visit the film’s homepage or learn more about the project from A Better L.A.