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LAPD Tries to Box Out Gangs : Officers, Merchants Start Ring Program for Boys, Ages 10 to 18

July 16, 1987|ROBERT D. DAVILA | Times Staff Writer

A single lamp dangles unevenly over an unused boxing ring set up in a dim, locked room. Two punching bags hang nearby, motionless. Clutter is everywhere.

But, by November, groans, punches and the smell of sweat are expected to fill the air of the large storage area at the Northeast Division station of the Los Angeles Police Department. Officers and merchants are organizing the Northeast Boxing Club there in an effort to divert youths from joining street gangs.

Organizers hope to emulate the success of the Hollenbeck Youth Center, which police launched as a boxing club in 1977 to curb gang problems in Boyle Heights. Among the street toughs who joined that gym was Paul Gonzales, who went on to win a gold medal in the flyweight division at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

As at Hollenbeck, the purpose of the Northeast Boxing Club will be to attract boys 10 to 18 years old.

"This is not a place for gang members to work out," said Sgt. Jerry O'Neill, in charge of community relations at the Northeast Division. "If a kid decides he wants to quit the gang and come down here instead, then we certainly would welcome him. Otherwise, water and oil don't mix."

A board of directors for the Northeast Boxing Club was formed a year ago, and it began soliciting financial support with the help of a pro-police group of merchants called Businesses for Law Enforcement in the Northeast Division, or BLEND.

The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, which allocates surplus funds from the 1984 Olympics for youth sports, gave the group $9,000, and other donors added $1,500. The money was used to purchase the ring and punching bags.

Directors hope to raise at least $100,000 for the first year, mostly to purchase other equipment. The club is expected to operate thereafter on an annual budget of about $65,000, including the salaries of a full-time director and part-time coaches, O'Neill said.

However, the club has a long way to go financially. So far it has only about $3,300, officials said.

"We've been struggling to create something from nothing," O'Neill said. "The problem is that, when you have nothing to show yet, people want to see something before they're willing to contribute. So we've sort of had the cart before the horse. But we're moving now."

Volunteer Staffing

Until the funds are raised, the club will be staffed by volunteers. The organization also is negotiating for donations of construction materials and labor to get the 3,500-square-foot facility ready for its scheduled opening in November.

At a board meeting Monday, directors set Jan. 15 as the date for the first exhibition match at the club.

Capt. Noel K. Cunningham, commander of the Northeast Division, allowed the the gym to set up at the police station at 3353 San Fernando Road. Board President Joe Somoza Sr. said the club hopes to purchase a permanent site within three years.

Most of the major Latino and Asian gangs in the city have members in the Northeast Division, O'Neill said. The division covers about 30 square miles, including parts of Glassell Park, Mount Washington, Atwater, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz.

Gang Activity Off Slightly

Gang activity in the area so far this year is down only slightly from 1986, according to police statistics. Officers investigated 46 gang-related crimes during the first six months of 1987, mostly assaults and robberies. In the same period last year, 49 gang-related crimes were reported.

The Northeast statistics for the first half of 1987 compare with 508 gang-related crimes reported in the Hollenbeck Division. "It's been a pretty good year in the Northeast," said Detective Charles Hundley of CRASH, the police anti-gang unit.

Information flyers sent to area schools recently drew more than 200 applications from youngsters who want to box. Directors plan to start the boxing program with 25 to 50 youths, who must have medical approval for the program and must maintain passing grades in school. Several volunteers are set to coach.

More Youth Sports

Organizers plan to eventually expand the club activities to include other individual and team sports, including soccer, gymnastics and aerobics.

"We want activities that girls would be interested in, too," said Somoza, vice president of a beer distributing company. "Everybody likes sports."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Marcus said he joined the club board because he belonged to youth sports clubs while growing up in New York City.

"Kids really need this," he said.

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