LYNWOOD — Because 29 people died in gang-related violence last year--15 more than the previous year--the City Council is moving to combat the rising crime being committed by youth gangs in the city and neighborhoods served by the Lynwood Sheriff's Station.
The council has voted unanimously to endorse a proposal by Councilwoman Evelyn Wells to establish a communitywide task force against gang violence.
The task force, which is still in the formative stage, will involve both the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and community groups, said Wells, who is leading the effort.
"It is time for us to reclaim our community and begin an aggressive campaign aimed at combating gang membership while providing constructive alternatives," Wells stated in a recent press release.
'Arouse the Community'
The goal of the program, Wells said, is to discourage youths from joining gangs and to "arouse the community" in a long-term effort to prevent gang membership.
Wells met recently with City Manager Charles Gomez and Capt. Stuart Hansell, commander of the Lynwood Sheriff's Station, and gave an outline of her proposed plan while inviting the suggestions of city officials and sheriff's deputies. The Lynwood station has the law enforcement responsibility for the City of Lynwood and the adjacent unincorporated areas of east Compton and Willowbrook.
"Everyone is in agreement that gang violence has dramatically increased," said Wells, who is financial supervisor for the associated student body of Lynwood High School. "The Sheriff's Department is working really hard to fight these gangs. So, this is not an effort to beat up on the Sheriff's Department. We are trying to find ways in which the community can become involved."
Wells said the task force initially will involve community members, including parents and religious organizations, and include some type of educational program for students in the Lynwood Unified School District. Participants would form a network with officials in surrounding areas and encourage the Legislature to pass laws to help curb juvenile violence.
Wells said she asked Gomez to assign a member of his city staff to draw up a more concrete proposal. City Administrative Analyst Gerald Ford has been given the task, and said he hopes to have a proposal to present to the council soon.
Ford said American Cable Systems of California, which holds the city's cable television franchise, has agreed to produce an anti-gang video to be shown to parents and the public.
"We have a rough outline of an anti-gang video that will give some gang history and background and what characteristics and manner of dress parents should look for in their children," Ford said.
"We hopefully will be able to tell parents where they can get help, and what city programs will be available to help them keep their children out of gangs."
Ford said once more details are worked out in the anti-gang videotape, it will be presented to council members for their suggestions.
"In addition to showing the video on cable television, maybe we can make enough copies to put in the library so parents and groups like the PTA and churches can check them out," Councilman Louis J. Heine said.
Meanwhile, Capt. Hansell said that when possible he is providing staffing from the 137-deputy Lynwood station to join forces with the regular eight-man Operation Safe Street gang detail to deter outbreaks of violence. Recent results have been good, Hansell said.
On Jan. 22, 23 and 29, 10 deputies from the station assisted the gang detail in making 13 felony arrests over the three nights, Hansell said.
There are about 30 active gangs with between 800 and 1,000 "hard-core" members within the Lynwood station patrol area, said Sgt. Ron Herbst, gang detail supervisor.
Herbst would not disclose the names of any of the area gangs because department officials do not want to give undue publicity to the "thugs" who are interested in seeing their names in the media, he said.
"Gang activity has been going on in this area and surrounding areas. But incidents like the Westwood shooting shock the consciousness of people," Herbst said. "It moves groups--like the Lynwood City Council--to action."
(A Long Beach woman was fatally shot Jan. 30 in Westwood by gang members who apparently were firing at each other. One person has been arrested in the case.)
Herbst said gang members--some as young as 12 years old--often use paramilitary and semi-automatic weapons.
Weapons Easy to Get
"They can steal them or send someone into a gun shop to buy a weapon," Herbst said. "There is no waiting period for a semi-automatic weapon as in the case of a handgun . . . A guy can put $300 down and walk out with a rifle, while he must wait weeks (while police conduct a background check) when buying a handgun. It's just a crazy quirk in the law."
Luckily, there have not been any shootings on school campuses in the Lynwood area, Wells said. However, some have taken place near schools or involved school children.
The latest incident occurred Feb. 2 when shots were fired at two school buses in the east Compton area. A 16-year-old male gang member has been charged with shooting a .22-caliber pistol into the buses after students on board shouted gang slogans and made hand signs at the arrested youth and some others standing on the street, Herbst said. No one was injured.
"It doesn't take much," he said. "Innocent people can be wearing the wrong colors, say the wrong thing and be shot."