LONG BEACH — In an effort to blunt continuing problems with street gangs in the city, police have reorganized the department's gang detail and started sweeps to arrest the most criminally active youths.
During the first of those dragnets, officers early Monday morning arrested four suspected gang members for suspicion of a number of crimes, including possession of drugs and strong-arm robbery.
Officers say they hope the effort will send a strong message to the estimated 5,000 gang members in Long Beach: that police are cracking down on gang crime.
Last year was the most violent period of gang activity in the city's history. In 1985, police say, there were 15 gang-related homicides in Long Beach, more than triple the 4 recorded for all of 1984 and well ahead of the previous peak of 9 in 1983.
In addition, police say the sale and use of narcotics, much of it by gang members, appears to have increased during 1985. Although police could not provide statistics, they said that gang-related crimes such as drive-by shootings also jumped.
Department officials say they hope the reorganization of the gang detail, along with the continued sweeps, will help squelch the problem.
"These strong enforcement efforts will disrupt and interfere with gang cohesiveness by separating members from one another," Police Chief Charles Ussery said in a written report delivered to the City Council on Tuesday. "Experience has shown us that once the leadership structure is removed, gangs are less active and the potential for gang violence is reduced."
Police said that the arrests Monday were made by teams of officers working with the gang detail, which has been combined with the department's four-member Administrative Security Section in an effort to provide additional strength to fight street gangs. The security section normally works in intelligence gathering.
That reorganization was sparked by a Dec. 3 report on the city's gang problem by the Public Safety Advisory Commission, which suggested that the department expand its two-man gang detail.
While the reorganization does not increase the number of officers assigned full time to the gangs, it does give the gang detail the ability "to acquire immediate assistance in terms of criminal intelligence gathering, gang leader identification and field enforcement," Ussery said in his written report to the Council.
Crime Impact Team
Officers from the department's patrol division and Community Crime Impact Team, a specialized unit that targets certain crimes or problem-plagued sections of the city, "will be utilized when necessary to perform street gang enforcement duties," Ussery said.
Members of the Public Safety Advisory Commission and the City Council commended Ussery and the department.
"I feel this is an excellent focus for the police department and will let gang members know the city is serious about stopping this problem," said Barbara Shoag, Public Safety Advisory Commission chairwoman. "We're pleased to see this response."
Councilwoman Eunice Sato also pointed to the department's efforts as a good step, saying the city is "well on its way" to putting a dent in the activities of criminal street gangs.
Currently, Sato and other members of the council's Public Safety Committee are reviewing the slate of recommendations made by the Public Safety Advisory Commission.
Among other things, the commission suggested that the city provide additional recreation and vocational-training programs for youths in gang-afflicted areas, that school officials start an intensive course to teach youngsters the perils of gang activity and that a task force of officials from various public and private agencies be formed to coordinate measures designed to reduce gang crime.