COMPTON — After being confronted by angry citizens complaining that not enough has been done to stop gang violence, City Council members unveiled a "get-tougher policy" last week designed to put more police on the street with a broader mandate to crack down.
"We have declared war on gangs," Mayor Walter R. Tucker announced, reading from a statement at a hastily called press conference on Wednesday.
At a council meeting the night before, Tucker explained, about 50 citizens "expressed a growing fear and concern that the gang problem is getting out of hand. Many of them seem to believe that the Compton Police Department and this City Council are too soft on crime. I assure you that this is not the case."
To prove it, council members quickly huddled with police and emerged with an 11-point plan for attacking a complex problem that has frustrated residents and officials for years.
36 Street Gangs
At least 36 identifiable street gangs operate within the city's 10-square-mile limits. The rate of criminal assaults is on the rise. With four months to go in 1987, the number of murders stands just four short of last year's 61. Police say at least 34 of the year's 57 murders are gang-related.
"I've had maybe as high as 100 calls a week from citizens complaining about (gang) narcotics sales," Councilman Floyd A. James said. "They complain about them (gang members) being on their front lawns even, running through their yards."
After a "very serious talk" with police officials, James said, the council's blunt directive to the department is now, "Clean our city up, get rid of the crooks."
Among other things, police will:
- Triple, from five to 15, the number of officers assigned full-time to the department's gang detail.
- Put all of the department's 137 sworn officers, "regardless of rank or assignment," on the street for various patrols.
- Enforce curfew and loitering laws "to the fullest extent."
- Shift the efforts of the drug enforcement task force to concentrate on gang narcotics trafficking.
- Stop and question known gang members as they walk or drive through the city.
- Deploy the department's new patrol helicopter.
All Police Involved
"The entire department will be involved in this," Police Cmdr. Terry Ebert said.
Charles Norman, a local Community Youth Gang Services worker, applauded the council's stand, but said the community needs to become involved as well as the police. "The people in the community have got to erupt. . . . They've got to walk block by block" to take back gang territories, Norman said.
James said the council also plans to hold a community conference on Sept. 12 to examine the gang problem. And it will look for ways to enlist civic groups and even Gov. George Deukmejian in the stepped-up police campaign.
By "speaking with one voice," James said, the city can "deliver a message to gangs that we will not turn our city over to them."
Councilman Robert L. Adams said gang activity in Compton has "proliferated" in part because the community continues to suffer from high unemployment. Even when jobs are available, gang members find they can make more money by committing crime than by working legitimately, Adams said.
"Compton is not a lawless town," James said. Although the city is faced with "a multitude of problems," many are no different than those confronting other Los Angeles County communities.
Tucker said the difference is that Compton officials are trying to be more aggressive in treating the problem. He added that city officials "are not ashamed to say we need help" from whoever can give it. "We need everybody to fight this evil cancer," he said.
(Starting this fall, the county-funded youth agency will help the Compton Unified School District present a new anti-gang program to fifth-graders in all 23 elementary schools. Underwritten by a $125,000 state grant, the Career Paths-Gang Alternatives program was developed in neighboring Paramount as a way to show students the ugly realities of gang life, school coordinator Willard McCrumby Jr. explained in a separate interview.)
There are questions about how effectively Compton can wage any war on crime given the financial crisis that some fiscal experts predict. When the council narrowly defeated a proposed increase in a utility-users tax last month, the city controller and the city treasurer predicted that drastic budget cuts would soon be necessary unless the council found a way to replace the $2.5 million in federal revenue sharing funds that the city used to receive annually.
In fact, the same night the council decided not to raise the tax revenue--some of which had been earmarked for the police--council members postponed purchasing four motorcycles that had been requested by patrol officers.
Tucker has even proposed that the city try to save money by dumping its police force and contracting for service through the Sheriff's Department, as does neighboring Carson. The other four council members, however, are staunchly opposed.
Police official Ebert acknowledged that the gang crackdown will cost the city more money in overtime pay, but did not estimate how much.