Unit Aims to Quell Street Violence : Police Anti-Gang Detail Mobilized in Bell Gardens

May 15, 1986|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

BELL GARDENS — This city's long-promised and long-delayed two-man gang detail is set to go into full operation next month, backed by revenues from the Bicycle Club poker parlor.

The gang detail--part of the special investigations unit, which also includes a narcotics detail--has had more than its share of problems that culminated when the unit's commander was shot in February. A new commander--the third in 18 months--was appointed last week, Chief William Donohoe said, and the second of two gang officers will be on staff June 1.

The City Council authorized seven new positions for the Police Department in late 1984, with money it expected to come from the newly opened Bicycle Club. The Police Department was to get two officers to investigate gangs and two to pursue narcotics, as well as three administrative positions.

Picked 2 Officers

From fiscal year 1982-83 to 1985-86, the police budget increased by almost $1 million, most of it allocated from Bicycle Club card revenues, said David Bass, the city's director of finance. Out of an estimated $1,674,000 the city will receive from card club revenues in this year, Bass said the Police Department will receive $991,700. The rest of the money has been allocated to the Community Services Department.

Donohoe said he asked for the police positions because he was concerned about what appeared to be gang-related activity. He said he initially picked two police officers for gang duty and began training them through the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, but vacancies in the patrol division prevented them from concentrating solely on monitoring gang activity.

"We had to step away from it when we began to have a vacancy rate that demanded we keep the levels of patrol up," Donohoe said. He said he spread existing personnel around to fill in while more officers were hired and trained.

Early this year, Donohoe said, the two narcotics detectives and the one detective assigned to gangs began working jointly on narcotics and gang-related activities.

But then Sgt. Ronald Kunkle, 40, who was in charge of the special investigations unit, was shot on his fourth day of command as he served a search warrant in Maywood. While Kunkle was hospitalized with ankle and shoulder wounds, Donohoe put the special investigations unit--including the gang detail--on hold.

Kunkle remains on long-term disability, so last week Donohoe appointed Sgt. Paul Reuter, a 12-year veteran, to the post.

Reuter said he will concentrate on identifying gang members and other intelligence-gathering work in the next six months. He also wants to work closely with the district attorney's office and the probation department to vigorously prosecute gang members who have repeated arrests.

"We want to cut down on the violent-type crimes and drive-by shootings," Reuter said. "Hopefully, we can get cooperation when the incidents keep occurring and have (gang members) serve time."

One of the strategies Reuter said he will use to combat gang activity is to target hot spots in the city and concentrate law enforcement efforts there for a 30-day period.

"We stop everything that moves," including pedestrians and vehicles, said Lt. Richard Webb, the department's public information officer and commander of the patrol division.

One of the areas targeted by officers in February was the 5600 block of Gotham Street, where drive-by shootings and drug dealing were rampant, residents and police said.

"There were two gangs fighting for the area," said Webb, who noted that 69 persons were arrested on several charges, including various drug violations. Of those arrested, 27 were identified as known gang members. The sweep was conducted by two narcotics officers and one officer who works with gangs.

Smoked PCP in Public

One resident said the drug trade was so flagrant that dealers would dip cigarettes in a liquid form of PCP in the middle of the street and smoke it. PCP, short for phencyclidine, is an illegal hallucinogenic drug.

Since the officers hit the block, Webb said, the activity has diminished and fewer complaints have been received from the community.

One resident, Corina Parsen, said she constantly asked the police to step up patrol on the street. "It was really terrible," Parsen said, who relayed stories about men urinating in the open, young children on bikes delivering drugs and a non-stop congestion of cars on the street.

"They're still trafficking, but since the police came it has been a lot calmer," said another resident who asked not to be identified.

Police Department spokesmen say they hope keep the pressure on Gotham Street and other trouble spots in the city with the addition of the officer to the gang unit.

City Manager Claude Booker said that with the gang unit finally coming up to full strength, city officials are hopeful that narcotics and gang activity will be reduced. He said the delay in getting the special investigations unit operating was not unusual because of the necessity for training and the desire to get the right people.

Donohoe wanted to "only hire the best and if he had to wait, he'd wait," Booker said. The gang unit will be "ongoing for years to come. We hope that will give us what we're looking for--results," he said.

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