The Monterey Park and Alhambra police departments are considering merging forces to combat organized crime in the Asian community, a problem that has emerged in recent years as the Asian populace in those two cities has nearly doubled since 1980.
For the past several months, the two police agencies have studied the possibility of combining their Asian gang and narcotics/vice details in an attempt to control Asian underworld activity, which includes extortion, gambling and prostitution rackets operating in both cities.
"Alhambra and Monterey Park share east-west borders. We have a lot of Asian street crime that respects no borders," Alhambra Police Chief Joseph Molloy said. "A coordinated effort with Monterey Park might be the best way to deal with the problem."
Although Molloy said it was premature to discuss details of a plan to combine forces, he theorized that Monterey Park might oversee an expanded Asian strike force with Alhambra heading an expanded narcotics/vice division. Molloy said there was no timetable for when a formal plan might be developed.
"One city would take the lead in Asian gangs and the other city would take the lead in narcotics and vice," Molloy said. "Because the two problems overlap, there would be a lot of coordination between the two departments. But any plan would be subject to the approval of our city councils."
Last week, Monterey Park Police Chief Jon D. Elder and a representative from the Alhambra Police Department met with federal and local law enforcement officials to discuss the possibility of forming an areawide strike force on Asian organized crime. Elder and Molloy both complained that Los Angeles Police Department coolness to the proposed plan killed the idea.
Elder quoted Los Angles police representatives as saying the city "did not have an Asian gang problem" and that a strike force made up of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Customs and several local police agencies was not needed at this time.
A Los Angeles police spokesman later said the department's representative at the meeting was expressing his own opinion and that this did not necessarily represent the department's point of view concerning the federal-local strike force.
"We were very interested in the idea of a federal-local strike force," Elder said. "We're tired of being the central clearinghouse for Asian organized crime problems. Every day we're inundated with calls from various law enforcement agencies wanting information on this gang and that gang."
But Stephen Czuleger, the assistant U.S. attorney who chaired the meeting, said Elder and Molloy were wrong in assuming that the idea for a federal-local strike force was dead.
"It was clear from the beginning that there was a divergence of opinion and not everybody in the room was going to be involved in a strike force," Czuleger said. "But there's still a good chance for it, and we're proceeding along the lines that we'll have some kind of organizational group to look at the problem."
Czuleger said some law enforcement officials at the meeting expressed serious concerns over the emergence of Asian gangs, while others downplayed the problem. "There were those who felt the sky was falling and others who thought they had the problem pretty much under control," he said.
In the last six months, Elder has been outspoken on the need for a strong federal role in fighting Asian organized crime in Monterey Park and other cities with large Asian populations. Last October, Elder testified in New York before the President's Commission on Organized Crime that Chinese criminal syndicates had infiltrated Monterey Park and were fighting for control over local rackets.
Elder told the commission that his city, with an Asian population that has soared in recent years from 2% to more than 38% of its 59,000 residents, has several Asian-owned banks that may be laundering $1.5 to $2 million daily in illegal money.
Monterey Park is one of the few cities in the country to have a team of detectives assigned to investigate Asian organized crime. The team is made up of five men, three of whom speak Chinese. Even so, the team has experienced difficulties in penetrating the gangs.
Last September, a shootout at the Wok Wang restaurant between members of the United Bamboo Gang and a rival Vietnamese gang resulted in at least one injury. The 16 patrons inside the restaurant told police they did not witness the incident because they were either in the restroom or were busy eating dinner.
The restaurant, which police intelligence reports say is owned by the leader of the Bamboo Gang in Los Angeles, was closed a short while later for health reasons but has reopened in the past month.