Demonstrating once again the power of incumbency, Gov. George Deukmejian ventured into his Democratic opponent's backyard Tuesday to deliver a $1.2-million grant aimed at bolstering local efforts to combat the rising tide of gang violence.
The grant, which will be divided among local law enforcement agencies and anti-gang programs, will finance a computer identification system so that street officers can more easily detect gang members and arrest them for various probation violations.
Compared to the more than $8 million that Los Angeles alone spends on gang suppression efforts, however, the grant presented by the governor might under other circumstances attract little attention, let alone a gubernatorial visit.
But on this day, Deukmejian surrounded himself with a crowd of local law enforcement officials and, as television cameras rolled, he posed with a five-foot-long blowup of the check and insisted that there was nothing political intended.
"We're not here to get into a discussion of the campaign," the governor cautioned reporters, who peppered him with questions about his opponent in the November gubernatorial election, Mayor Tom Bradley.
Deukmejian said he was turning aside those inquiries because "my experience, unfortunately, is that the main reason for having this press conference kind of gets lost or buried."
"I think it's very important to the people of Los Angeles County to realize how significant this gang problem is to the community," he said.
The Bradley campaign saw the event as anything but non-political.
"It was a nice photo opportunity," said Ali Webb, Bradley's campaign spokeswoman. "It just seems like George Deukmejian is hiding from the public with his refusal to debate, and now he's adopted a policy of hiding from the press at public events."
With law enforcement a main theme of the governor's campaign and his constant attempts to paint Bradley as soft on crime, the ceremony offered Deukmejian a well-timed opportunity to claim credit for doing something about a problem that plagues not only Bradley, but the mayors of most urban communities.
Less than two weeks ago, Los Angeles police officials disclosed that there had been a 20.2% surge in youth gang violence in the first half of this year. Citywide, officials reported 89 gang-related murders this year, compared to 68 in all of 1985. Similar increases were reported for assaults, robberies and gang-related kidnapings.
This has occurred despite stepped-up gang control efforts by both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff Sherman Block, who attended the check-presentation ceremony, said his gang unit has identified 236 youth gangs in the county area, 102 of which have been targeted for special surveillance as "the most violence-prone" of the organizations.
Christmas in July
"This is a little bit of Christmas in July with this check," Block told Deukmejian.
The largest portion of the grant--$534,371--will go to the Sheriff's, Police and Probation departments for a computerized system that will track gang members and list parole conditions imposed upon them by the courts.
Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said officers now keep records "in a shoe box" and the new system will make it easier to identify parole violators and immediately detain many gang members.
The rest of the grant, partly financed by federal funds, will be divided among the Monterey Park Police Department, the Baldwin Park Police Department, the Soledad Enrichment Action Concerned Parent Program, the Community Youth Gang Service Corp. and the Community Youth Sports and Arts Foundation.
For the most part, Deukmejian said the aim of the grants is to "single out gang leaders for prosecution and to show them that we won't stand by while they continue to get their kicks out of killing."