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Police Chief Pledges a New War on Gangs

November 14, 2002|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Speaking at a special City Council meeting Wednesday night in Sylmar, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton assured residents that his department would launch an all-out war on street gangs.

Bratton praised a recent initiative by the LAPD and local political leaders to work more closely with community youth and religious organizations to help curb the gang problem.

"It's partnership that is the cornerstone of community policing," he told a crowd of several hundred at Mission College. "No city needs that partnership more than this city."

The Los Angeles Police Department estimates there are 80 gangs with 20,000 members in the San Fernando Valley.

Gang violence -- including murder, rape, robbery and assault -- jumped 7.1% in the Valley in 2001, according to the LAPD. Gang-related homicides increased from 38 to 46 over the 12 months ending in September, but overall gang violence was down 1.3%.

Traditionally, the Police Department has used specialized units and court injunctions to combat gangs. More recently, it has teamed up with probation and corrections officers and prosecutors in an anti-gang program, Community Law Enforcement and Recovery.

The program was instituted in 1997 under a $3-million state grant in the Valley's Devonshire and Foothill divisions. But this year, the budget was slashed to $1 million.

Speaking on KFWB-AM (980) Wednesday, Bratton said the Special Enforcement Unit that replaced the anti-gang CRASH units after the 1999 Rampart scandal has been less effective at penetrating street gangs. But he stopped short of saying he would bring back CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums), noting allegations by former Officer Rafael Perez that the unit's officers regularly falsified evidence and even sold drugs.

Bratton's Sylmar appearance came a day after swearing-in ceremonies for his new command staff, including Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell and Deputy Chiefs Sharon Papa and George Gascon.

Since being named chief, Bratton has said a more effective way to attack gangs is to let division captains operate more like department chiefs to quickly deploy officers where they are needed.

"I want the captain, much the same as I'm going to do as chief, to be able to say 'I need 30 people in a gang unit because I have a horrendous gang problem,' " Bratton said in an earlier interview. "I don't want him to have to send up a report through the chain of command."

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