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Police Sweep Ushers In a Harder Task : Depressed Area Around 3rd Street Can Use Agencies' Help to Rebuild, Keep It Safe

October 09, 1994

The cynicism and despair in the neighborhood around 3rd Street in Santa Ana will prove formidable foes to efforts to keep the area free of gangs after last month's extraordinary police sweep.

For months, investigators monitored drug-dealing and other crimes in and around 3rd Street. Prosecutors took the unprecedented step of impaneling a special grand jury, which delivered indictments, and police arrested more than 100 people, a number of them members of a gang that police said was one of the worst in the county. Responding now to concern that several suspects may have been wrongly charged, prosecutors are right to review the indictments.

But a Times reporter and photographer who lived in an apartment in the neighborhood for a week after the arrests found a chilling portrait of residents so afraid of gangs and guns that they did not venture outside after dark. Even in daylight they were afraid to go out. Things improved after the police sweep, but residents expected the situation to worsen before long.

One way to improve the neighborhood is to keep it under tight police surveillance, but it will take more than just police action. The residents themselves must work for change. One hopeful sign is the groups of women who for months have accompanied their children to and from school. The county has funded that parents' patrol, and police have trained its members in safety techniques. It is a good example of government agencies helping residents to help themselves.

But the mothers candidly acknowledged they did not want the gangs to interpret their unity as a challenge; they emphasize the sole purpose was to get their children to and from the schoolhouse door. Yet, the mothers' group is a building block that can be used in the future.

More help is required. Area churches can offer not just spiritual help but meeting places for residents to discuss problems and solutions. Landlords need to be prompted by the city to help their tenants be safe, with good lighting, locks that work, graffiti removed and, if necessary, security guards. Parents should be the first line of attack, emphasizing education and homework, urging children not to look on gang members as role models.

Much of this will be difficult. The area has been gang territory for years, and the buildings that are run-down deteriorated over time, not overnight. But residents should show the city they want to live in peace, in good homes, and the city and other agencies should help them do it.

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