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Police Arrest 84 in 2nd Skid Row Sweep as Advocates Voice Concerns

November 23, 2002|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Police arrested another 84 wanted criminals and suspects in a second massive sweep of downtown's skid row Thursday night and Friday morning that officials said was needed to counter a recent spate of street crime.

About 65% of those taken into custody were fugitives violating parole by associating with felons or using controlled substances, a state official said.

"We're not rounding up the homeless," said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections. "These are people who knowingly absconded" from the law.

But advocates for the estimated 5,000 homeless on the streets downtown again questioned the wisdom of the sweeps involving hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers.

"Half the homeless on skid row have a drug problem and have an alcohol problem," said Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness. "So it's really easy to find lots of people on parole."

The latest action brought to almost 200 the number of people arrested in the sweeps, police said.

"You're not always going to catch them in the act [of a crime] or have witnesses," said LAPD Capt. Charlie Beck, commander of the central area. "So this is a tool to remove predators from the street."

Officials said skid row has the highest concentration of parolees in California. Through Nov. 16, there were 1,100 robberies, up 20% over last year in the four-square-mile central area that includes skid row. There were 825 assaults, up 14% over the same period, Beck said.

Backed by phalanxes of patrol cars, officers fanned out across the areas bounded 1st, Spring and 7th streets and the Los Angeles River overnight Thursday.

Officers again focused on low-cost hotels around 5th Street, an area known as "the Nickel," knocking on doors and checking on parolees.

Those found violating the conditions of their parole -- such as possessing drugs or guns, associating with gang members or simply failing to check in with their parole officers -- were taken into custody.

Police said that many of the parolees had a history of drug use or dealing, and that others had previous convictions for serious offenses such as sex crimes, robberies, assaults and drug sales. One had been convicted of manslaughter, authorities said.

Those arrested ranged in age from 27 to 66.

Others arrested during an initial sweep Wednesday, according to LAPD records, were still being held on such misdemeanors as obstructing a police officer and failure to appear in court. Some of those arrested Wednesday and held on bail as low as $250 remained in jail Friday. Their offenses included loitering on city sidewalks and failure to appear in court.

In the second sweep, police handed out just 10 citations for jaywalking and moving violations after dispensing 100 during the earlier sweep. Those cited were not taken into custody, police said.

The raids followed by just 48 hours complaints by business organizations about the number of homeless people on skid row.

Diana Warren, vice president for public policy at the Central Cities Assn., which represents 300 mostly downtown-area businesses, said her group has called for dealing with the problem of lawlessness in the skid row area.

But she called the timing of the raid coincidental.

"We had nothing to do with that sweep," Warren said.

Heimerich, the state official, called the action "an extremely successful operation. It looks like we've struck a vein."

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Staff writer Kristina Sauerwein contributed to this report.

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