Montebello has joined forces with Monterey Park and Alhambra in a regional police task force to combat Asian organized crime, a problem that has emerged in recent years with the dramatic growth of the Asian population of the western San Gabriel Valley.
Montebello Police Chief Leslie Sourisseau said his department will combine resources with police agencies in the other two cities in an attempt to curb Asian underworld activity that threatens to spill over into Montebello.
The task force, already operating in Monterey Park and Alhambra, will expand to include Montebello as soon as Sourisseau fills a few positions within his department, the police chief said.
"We don't have the Asian gang problems that Monterey Park does but we have some and we expect to have more in the future," Sourisseau said. "We're starting to get a lot of mom-and-pop stores owned by Asians and these businesses are traditionally victims of Asian gangs."
Two Gangs Named
Monterey Park has taken the lead in calling for police agencies to merge forces in fighting extortion, gambling and prostitution rackets run by sophisticated Asian gang networks such as the Wah Ching and the United Bamboo.
Last October, Monterey Park Police Chief Jon 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. He said racketeering-type crimes are beyond the ability of his department to control.
"The Asian gangs are struggling for control of lucrative criminal enterprises in Los Angeles and in the San Gabriel Valley, including gambling, illegal alien smuggling, extortion, protection and narcotics distribution rackets," Elder said in a prepared statement distrubted to commission members.
Two weeks ago, the Monterey Park City Council approved the idea of a three-city Asian crime task force and suggested that it be further expanded to include Los Angeles, Rosemead and San Gabriel.
"We all had the consensus that it makes good sense to work with our neighboring cities to share resources and avoid duplication," said Councilwoman Lily Lee Chen. "Joining forces with Alhambra and Montebello is really a first step."
Seven Officers on Team
Monterey Park is one of the few cities in the country to have a team of detectives assigned to investigate Asian organized crime. With the addition of an officer each from Alhambra and Montebello, the team will have seven officers, three of whom speak Chinese. In return, Monterey Park will assign two of its officers to an expanded narcotics and vice team operating in the three cities.
"Monterey Park has the expertise in the field of Asian gangs," Sourisseau said. "Now we'll be able to train someone in Asian gangs at no expense to us and Monterey Park will be able to train officers in narcotics at no expense to them. It saves taxpayer money and it provides expertise in an area where we don't have expertise."
Sourisseau said Montebello's participation in the task force is in response to a "newly emerging crime problem" that has accompanied immigration of Asians to the area. The Asian population in Montebello has more than tripled in the last five years, Sourisseau said. Asians now make up about 10% of the city's population.
Montebello police Sgt. Steve Simonian, who heads up his department's vice, narcotics and intelligence unit, said Montebello has experienced an increase in Asian gang activity in the last two years.
Simonian said the gang-related crimes have included extortion, petty theft and "gang-type retaliations."
"These crimes have not occurred in any large number," Simonian said, "but there is an emerging trend and Monterey Park has expertise in this area. We see the task force as a training device for our people and as a chance to share manpower."
Racial Tension Grows
In Monterey Park, the Asian population has soared in recent years to more than 38% of the city's 59,000 residents. And as housing availability in Monterey Park has decreased, large numbers of recent immigrants have moved to Alhambra, increasing that city's Asian population from 12% in 1980 to 25% in 1985.
Accompanying this influx has been an increase in racial tensions between Asians and longtime Latino and Anglo residents, who sometimes resent the cultural transformation taking place in their midst. While acknowledging that Asian organized crime is a problem that warrants special attention, Councilwoman Chen said she fears that a task force singling out Asian crime might add to that tension.
"I did make the suggestion and feel very strongly about it that it should be a 'gang' task force, not an 'Asian gang' task force," Chen said. "To highlight the Asian gangs would create unnecessary fear on the part of our residents.
"Simply because we're taking the leadership role in this area doesn't mean we're the only city in the county that has an Asian crime problem."