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L. B. Council Orders More Study on Steps to Curb Gang Crime

December 05, 1985|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Acknowledging that the city faces a problem with street gangs, the City Council has agreed to consider what steps should be taken to turn back the tide of gang activity.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to have its three-member Public Safety Committee study the issue but agreed on little else.

The action came after the city's Public Safety Advisory Commission presented a six-page report to the council with more than two dozen recommendations to thwart the proliferation of gangs.

Among other things, the commission suggested that the city expand its two-man police gang detail as well as fund more recreation and vocational training programs for youths living in areas affected by gangs.

The commission also recommended that a task force of officials from the city, schools and social service agencies be formed to coordinate measures to reduce gang crime. And it suggested that the school district provide an intensive course to teach students the perils of gangs; a similar program has been extremely successful in Paramount.

Barbara Shoag, commission chairwoman, called on the council to "recognize the serious and growing problem of gangs in Long Beach."

'Simple Solutions'

While council members were more than willing to do that, most stopped well short of endorsing any of the commission's recommendations.

Councilman James Wilson said the group's suggestions were "simple solutions" that would not have an impact on gangs. "You can't tell a kid he shouldn't be in a gang when he's walking around with $300 in his pocket from selling drugs," Wilson said.

Councilwoman Eunice Sato said the city had done enough studies of gangs and suggested that the council simply "receive and file" the report.

But Councilman Edd Tuttle insisted that the problem warrants attention by the council, largely because of complaints from residents that the city has been lax in dealing with gangs.

"The public perception is the city isn't moving fast enough," Tuttle said.

After the meeting, Shoag said she was pleased by the council's decision.

"I hope we'll see some action," Shoag said. "I think the heat's on a little bit and hopefully that will motivate the council. . . . I'll be very disappointed if they try to bury it. This is a critical issue which deserves attention."

The three members of the council's Public Safety Committee are: Tuttle, Sato and Warren Harwood.

In a series of public hearings held by the Public Safety Advisory Commission during the last year, many residents criticized city officials for not doing enough to combat gang crime or stop the growth of gangs.

15 Gang-Related Slayings

Police estimate that there are more than 5,000 gang members in Long Beach. There have been 15 gang-related homicides in the city during 1985. The previous peak was nine, in 1983.

Although police do not keep statistics on other crimes attributed to gangs, officers say there appears to have been a steady increase in the number of gang-related crimes in the city in recent years.

Police say gang members have been arrested for scores of strong-arm robberies, burglaries and assaults. They speculate, however, that such offenses are committed by only about 5% of the city's gang members.

Councilman Marc Wilder said he feared that, as the city searches for solutions, gangs with younger members not as involved in serious crimes would be "lumped in" with the more violent gangs whose members generally are older.

Wilder said the violent gangs are "in a whole different category" and needed intense police scrutiny. Many of the younger gang members have different needs, such as increased recreational opportunities, Wilder said.

"I don't believe we have the programs out there," Wilder said. "We can convince these kids that gangs are bad, but unless we provide some options for them, they're going to continue to run with their peers."

Harwood, however, stressed that the city needs to consider a beefed-up police gang detail to more directly tackle the problem of criminally active gangs.

Police have balked at suggestions that the two-man detail be expanded, saying the gang problem does not warrant focused attention because every officer in the department is working to stop gang crime.

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