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Officials Look for Ways to Control Teen-Agers Who Stormed Mall

January 22, 1992|ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Enraged by the conduct of scores of young people who stormed a Crenshaw district mall after a King Day parade, city officials said Tuesday that they will intensify efforts to roust large groups of teen-agers from a nearby park who have been accused of harassing merchants, residents and passersby.

Police say Leimert Park--less than a mile from Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills Plaza--has become a popular hangout for teen-agers who attend nearby schools or who come from other parts of the city on four bus lines that converge there.

Recently, the size of the groups and their troublesomeness has been exacerbated, police and neighborhood residents say, by the first long recess in the Los Angeles Unified School District's year-round school schedule.

State Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) and others are organizing a meeting later this week at which they hope merchants, school officials and law enforcement representatives will devise a plan to get the youngsters out of the park and off the street.

"What we need is a well-thought-through program for our teen-agers when they are off track," Watson said Tuesday. "We've got to have a plan for some adult guidance and protection."

The incident at the Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills Plaza began around 4 p.m. Monday when dozens of youths who had watched the nearby parade burst into the mall shouting and running, according to police and witnesses.

Although some reports have put the number of intruders at more than 100, police said there were no more than 50.

Capt. Garrett Zimmon at the Los Angeles Police Department's Southwest Division said the largest disruption was at the May Co., where he said store security guards briefly detained some young people for vandalism. But Bill Dombrowski, spokesman for the store's parent company, downplayed the incident.

"There wasn't any significant damage," said Dombrowski said. "Our security asked them to leave and they did right away. It was not that big a deal."

Dale Stewart, an anti-gang worker who was inside the mall, said the incident terrified shoppers.

"I heard these whooping sounds and turned around and I couldn't believe my eyes," said Stewart on Tuesday. "They ran down the hall toward Sears then made a U-turn and turned back. There were some very scared people there."

Police reported no arrests, but said they later had to disperse youths from Leimert Park, about half a mile away on Crenshaw Boulevard and Vernon Avenue. Some of the youths who bolted into the mall, Stewart said, are regulars at the park.

On Tuesday, the youths milling about the park said some of them are members of dance teams--called "posses"--who socialize together at local clubs. Some admit, though, that they also are graffiti "taggers" who spray the names of their groups on buses and other property.

They also acknowledged that some engage in a practice called "racking," in which large numbers of young people rush into a store, creating a diversion while companions stuff their pockets with merchandise.

Last month, police were alerted to the problems involving the park by Stewart's anti-gang agency--Community Youth Sports and Arts Foundation--and by Rapid Transit District officials. As authorities were in the process of trying to find answers to the problem, hundreds of additional youths went on winter break from school and began descending upon the area.

The break, which started just before Christmas, lasts until Feb. 14.

At the same time, a two-month winter remedial program for seventh- to 12th-graders began at Audubon Junior High School, which is not far from the park, and brought 700 additional students into the area. Many of those students--some from rival schools and some members of rival gangs--found their way to Leimert Park.

"Nobody from the (school) district let the police or anyone from this office know about this," said Jeff Kruger, a spokesman for Councilwoman Ruth Gallanter, who represents the area.

Annie Webb, principal of the winter program at Audubon, acknowledged that the students from her program did not help the situation at Leimert Park, but insisted that they did not cause it.

"It has a lot to do with kids having nowhere to go, nothing to do," she said. Some of the teen-agers who congregate at the park have simply stopped going to school, said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Carl Henderson.

"The thing that bothers me," said Henderson, "is that a lot of these kids are allowed to hang out for hours even after their parents know they are out of school."

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