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Asian Gang Crime Growing in Valley : Youth: Members, many from affluent families, say they join for protection.

July 04, 1995|NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new type of gang member has come to the San Fernando Valley--kids who are as likely to be "GQed" in trendy slacks and tailored shirts as dressed down in baggy clothes, driving souped-up Sentras and Integras rather than low-riders. Many come from affluent families and some are A students.

They're Asian gang members, and police say they're the cause of more and more crime in the Valley, particularly armed robberies that sometimes target their own friends and relatives.

"These are pretty much well-to-do children who have good families and have the same faults as other people do," said Los Angeles Police Detective Henry Kim of the department's Asian Crimes Task Force. "Society has always deemed Asians the ideal minority, studious kids. I think when this occurs everyone becomes all aghast."

Gang members themselves say they join for protection against other gangs as much as for the cash. "The Mexicans are always picking on you," said "Pinoy Boy," a slight youth from Northridge who just turned 16 and is in "RPB," a Filipino gang. "Who're you going to turn to? Your dad?"

Police believe it is the Valley's relative affluence and burgeoning Asian population that have drawn its newest wave of gangs; the Valley's Asian population more than doubled between 1980 and 1990, according to U.S. Census figures. Police are also quick to note that only a tiny fraction of the area's Asian community belongs to gangs.

But those who do are notorious for home-invasion robberies in which they trick recent immigrants into letting them into their homes, then ransack the premises while keeping the owners bound and gagged. Because many Asian immigrants are suspicious of banks, they frequently keep large amounts of money in their house, police say.

Such attacks have been fairly common in the San Gabriel Valley, with its long-established Asian community. But they have been surfacing with increasing frequency in the San Fernando Valley as highly mobile Asian gang members, who traditionally do not claim turf, have been on the prowl for new victims.

"They're just like any other criminals--they're opportunists," Kim said. "They look at an area where the public is not too astute to their activities."

Crimes traced to Asian gangs have doubled in the last year in the Valley, according to the Asian Crimes Task Force. There have been five homicides, six attempted murders and seven robberies so far this year in which either the victims or the perpetrators were Asian gang members, said detectives with the Valley's anti-gang unit.

Kim said the documented surge began around Christmas last year, when a group of juvenile gang members robbed five Porter Ranch families in a series of armed follow-home robberies.

It has continued with a home-invasion robbery occurring about once a month in Granada Hills, Northridge and Chatsworth in the northwest Valley, home to a large number of Asian families, as well as numerous burglaries throughout the Valley.

Investigators say they assume Asian gang members are responsible when robbery victims describe their attackers as Asian, seemingly well-organized and bearing trademark tattoos. Members representing at least half a dozen such gangs have appeared in the Valley, police say, some local, some coming from as far as Northern California to prey on area victims before returning to their base.

They include a wide range of nationalities from the largely Filipino RPB to the predominantly Vietnamese "Asian Boys." Yet investigators say they have also noted a broad mix of ethnicities in some gangs, such as the "Asian Bad Boys," which includes white and Latino members as well as members of Southeast Asian descent. Even RPB--which stands for "Real Pinoy (or Filipino) Brothers"--includes whites and Latinos, police say.

"We ain't racists," said "Bu Boy," 16, another RPB member.

Nonetheless, police say a battle between Asian and Latino gangs on Valerio Street in Van Nuys claimed three lives during April and May. A Latino gang claims the neighborhood as territory, but several Asian gang members live there, LAPD Lt. Fred Tuller said.

Members of RPB, some of whom boast that police call them the most "trigger-happy" gang in the Valley, have mixed feelings about the rise of Asian gangs in their own San Fernando Valley neighborhoods. On one hand, they see their friends more frequently falling victim to gang violence.

"Psycho," a 24-year-old RPB veterano of five years, recalled how the gang used to rumble with rivals using bare fists--"no guns, no knives. It was nice, you know?" he said. Now guns are standard equipment in gang battles, weapons that Psycho says he deplores. "Now I'm scared. I always watch my back."

But, notes Bu Boy, a high school junior who would not give his real name, Valley gangbangers now command more respect. "If they go to West Covina, [West Covina gang members] get scared. They say 'Oh, . . . they're from the Valley.' "

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