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Narcotics and Gangs: a Mean Mix

December 25, 1987|JESSE A. BREWER | Jesse A. Brewer is an assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department

I have been a member of the Los Angeles Police Department for nearly 36 years. In that period I have witnessed an evolution in the city. Our population has increased by 1 million, high-rise office buildings and hotels have dramatically transformed the downtown skyline, the area has become a metropolis of divergent cultures and our freeway systems have been filled to a nearly continual state of gridlock.

But these few examples of the changes in the "City of Angels," while dramatic, take a back seat to the evolution of two deadly interrelated diseases in our community--drug abuse and gang violence. Drug trafficking and gang warfare have become increasingly sophisticated, and that frustrates the law-enforcement community. Gangs have discovered the profitability in dealing narcotics. This deadly combination of drugs and gangs threatens to cast a plague on our community unlike any that we've experienced before.

Narcotics abuse has infiltrated virtually every socioeconomic group of our society. Countless lives, not only of abusers and dealers but also of the innocent, have been destroyed. As a member of the President's Commission on Organized Crime, I researched groups traditionally classified as crime "families." The street gangs in and around this city are no less dangerous than the figures normally associated with organized crime. Street gangs once preyed on rival gang members for control of the turf; now gangs that have never before associated with each other have formed alliances to ensure increased profit and power.

The use of the "Saturday-night special" by gang members has become as outdated as the bow and arrow; they now use Uzis and other automatic weapons that are far superior to those carried by patrol officers of the department--although the department is in the process of authorizing officers to carry semi-automatic weapons.

Gang violence has accounted for more than 100 homicides this year. During this past Thanksgiving weekend, five young people in South-Central Los Angeles were gunned down in separate incidents by occupants of passing vehicles.

I am convinced that the citizens of our community can put a stop to this evil. However, no one person or organization, no matter how powerful or influential, can do it alone. We must reach young people and steer them away from narcotics abuse and gang affiliation through education, employment and enforcement.

The Los Angeles Police Department has taken a positive lead in this venture. Through Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, young people in the Los Angeles Unified School District are learning to say no to drugs and peer pressure.

A number of years ago the Police Department also created a team of patrol officers throughout the city who specialize in monitoring and fighting gang activity.

But the department's resources are stretched to the breaking point. When I became a Los Angeles police officer in 1952, the department deployed 4,150 officers--a ratio of about two officers per 1,000 people. There were a total of 81 murders throughout the city in that year. In 1986, 820 murders were committed. In 1952, 11,259 Los Angeles city residents were victimized by burglary. In 1986, that figure rose to 64,242. The dramatic increase in criminal activity in the city can be seen across the board, yet the ratio of the officers to the total population remains the same. This must change.

The hiring of more officers, however, is just a step. We must all be committed to regaining control of our community from the hoodlums who threaten our very existence. We must demand support from our elected officials, and in turn we must support legislation designed to rid our community of criminal diseases.

The most vital element in this worthwhile venture is without doubt the parent. The acceptable levels of conduct and morality of our youth, both of which have plunged drastically in recent years, must be raised. Parents must set a positive example for their children.

I witness too many incidents where parents demonstrate a lack of interest in the activity of their children. I recall the recent arrest of a gang member whose mother was phoned by the police to accept custody of her son. The mother initially said that she was sleeping and therefore did not want to take her son from police custody. She finally arrived at the police station several hours after the notification. She was extremely upset, not because the son was involved in gang activity but because the police had disturbed her sleep.

But more typical is the single parent or grandparent, the hard-working guardian who has his or her hands full. Societal changes, including teen-age pregnancies and high divorce rates, are taking their toll on the guardian who often is trying to keep a roof over the head of a family missing at least one parent. When a single mother has to leave teen-agers without supervision in order to go to work, for example, the teens are often more vulnerable to the negative influences of drugs and gangs.

In the past the schools have played a role in steering our youth from negative influences. This is not the case in the 1980s. Schools are for the most part too busy just attempting to maintain order. It is up to the parents of our community to cause a reversal of this trend through both discipline and a demonstration of love for the child. It is time for all parents to accept this responsibility and be held accountable for the actions of their children.

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