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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

Discourage Gang Activity

Active, well-used parks foster a sense of community, allowing neighbors to get to know each other and help watch out for each other.

October 15, 2000

Many of us take for granted that we're safe in our own homes, that walls and a roof shelter us not just from rain and cold but from harm. That wasn't the case last weekend for a 9-year-old Pacoima girl wounded by a stray bullet from an apparent gang shootout.

Bad enough that an innocent youngster was caught in the cross-fire. More shocking still was that she was in her Dronfield Avenue house, settled in on the couch for a night of television with her father. The bullet ripped right through the wall, hitting her in the back.

And maybe most shocking of all, her neighbors weren't surprised.

They say gunfire is alarmingly common on this and other streets around Hubert H. Humphrey Memorial Park, a 9 1/2-acre pocket of the northeast San Fernando Valley long known for gang activity. The night after this shooting, a gang member sprayed a house several blocks away with semiautomatic gunfire. The week before, police shot and wounded a man waving a pellet gun at residents.

At the urging of City Councilman Alex Padilla, who grew up in Pacoima and now represents the district, the Los Angeles City Council last week offered a $25,000 reward for information on the girl's shooting. (She was discharged from Childrens Hospital on Wednesday and is doing well, according to police officers from the Foothill Division, who visited her at home.) Padilla also called for discouraging gang activity by fast-tracking improvements at Humphrey Park and other city parks in high-crime areas.

Such an approach was tried--successfully, according to city park officials--in July at Sepulveda Recreation Center in Panorama City after an 18-year-old man was killed and another young man critically wounded in a parking lot shooting.

The city responded to the attack by improving lighting, trimming overgrown trees and shrubs, removing a pay phone used for drug sales, installing a play area for toddlers and starting a flag football team. Police also stepped up patrols--a must for any anti-gang effort. Families and children once afraid to even set foot in the park now picnic and play there.

Mayor Richard Riordan used the turnaround at Sepulveda Recreation Center as the model for Operation Healthy Neighborhoods, a $14-million anti-crime initiative he proposed last month in response to a surge in gang-related homicides. Humphrey Park is one of 36 parks targeted citywide.

Sprucing up Humphrey Park is not by itself going to solve the problem of gangs, of course. Padilla recently oversaw the opening of a water slide at the park pool, first proposed in 1997 by then-City Councilman Richard Alarcon, now a state senator, as a deterrent to gangs after a high school football player was killed in the park. The shootings continue.

But opening a water slide--reclaiming a park--is a step.

Active, well-used parks foster a sense of community, allowing neighbors to get to know each other and help watch out for each other. Organized activities provide an alternative to gangs. And if families, kids and sports teams take over parks, drug pushers and thugs have fewer places to hang out.

Some City Council members grumble that the mayor's proposals merely repackage efforts already underway. But if they have better ideas, let's hear them. Safety is a fundamental human need. If a bullet striking a 9-year-old inside her own house doesn't pierce our complacency, what will?

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