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Valley Perspective

Reclaim the Parks, Streets

October 29, 2000

Credit Los Angeles city officials and members of the surrounding community for a rigorous response to the recent wave of gang-related shootings around Hubert H. Humphrey Memorial Park.

In the week since a 15-year-old boy was killed and three weeks after a 9-year-old girl was wounded inside her own house by a stray bullet, the city has acted to:

* Move 20 special anti-gang officers from the Metro Division to Pacoima, where they will stay, City Councilman Alex Padilla told The Times, "as long as it takes to restore order."

* Open a police drop-in center, at Padilla's urging, consisting of a desk in the park's recreation center that will be staffed part-time by a Foothill Division officer and community volunteers.

* Seek an injunction against Pacoima-area gangs, a hardball tactic that's been used against Valley gangs in Panorama City and North Hills.

Injunctions are controversial in that they employ extraordinary measures, such as subjecting identified gang members to curfews and prohibiting them from using pagers or hanging out together in public. Less controversial were the multi-agency measures that accompanied the injunctions in Panorama City and North Hills. Stepped-up building and safety inspections helped rid neighborhoods of derelict buildings where gangs thrive. Job training and social services provided residents with the means and skills to resist gangs.

Padilla already has called for fast-tracking improvements at Humphrey Park as a way to make the area more family-friendly--and less gang-friendly. The park is one of 36 in high-crime areas citywide targeted by Mayor Richard Riordan's "Healthy Neighborhoods" initiative, which is under consideration by the City Council.

None of these efforts will work, however, without the support and involvement of the community. And this is where the neighbors of Humphrey Park deserve credit.

The community has rallied against gangs. A local furniture company donated and delivered a new couch to replace the one with the bullet hole--and the scary memories--in it. Volunteers repaired damage to the house. About 50 residents attended a community meeting at the park to talk about what could be done to stop the shootings. Nearly 200 gathered Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil against violence.

These actions are not going to end the problems in this northeast San Fernando Valley neighborhood overnight. But only a concerted effort by the city and community will reclaim the park and the streets. That effort is off to a strong start.

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