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Taking on the killers in Compton

January 09, 2006|Lee Baca | LEE BACA is sheriff of Los Angeles County.

THE CITY of Compton, incorporated in 1888 (the seventh city to do so in Los Angeles County), is a smallish community mostly made up of blue-collar and white-collar workers looking to live in a safe and secure environment.

But gang members also live in its well-kept houses with manicured lawns, and the crime problem is serious. It always has been since I became sheriff in 1998, and as long as people can remember before that. A spike in homicides last year brought this message home once again.

Compton has 57 different gangs operating within the city, an extraordinary number for a community of only 90,454 residents. These gangs cross territories as easily as you or I might walk around the block. Our analysis of gang crimes suggests that no one gang is behind most of the murders, but the gangs are regularly engaging in block-to-block fights, of which there were more than 300 in 2005.

My job as sheriff is to keep the peace, and I've worked hard to do that. So when the L.A. Times suggested in a recent article that my department's response had been "passive," I felt I had to respond.

The fact is, we have seen a dramatic decrease in homicides in recent years in Compton. From a high of 90 in 1994, the number steadily decreased to 47 in 2000, when the Sheriff's Department took over the law enforcement duties. In 2001, it was 45; 2002, 49; 2003, 44; and 2004, 39. Then, this past year, the number went up to 67, according to our homicide reports (although The Times reported it as 72 in Monday's story).

The obvious question is, why the 2005 increase? Frankly, we don't know for sure. There has been no concentrated gang war or any discernible pattern in the violence to speak of. We know that, when we took over in 2000, many people who were engaged in illegal activity simply left the city. Now there is information that some have returned. It's also possible that last year's increase is an anomaly.

Before I tell you what I'm doing to help combat the jump in Compton homicides, let me explain what we've already had in motion the last few years. Since 2003, I have deployed in Compton the following resources solely dedicated to stem the tide of gang violence: We have nine gang investigators, eight gang suppression deputies, two sergeants and one lieutenant focused exclusively on Compton. Also, we have eight deputies from our Community Impact team to suppress violent crime and gang violence. Additionally, we moved 14 Community Oriented Policing Services deputies and one sergeant last year to focus on gang crimes in Compton.

Starting this weekend, we are going to double our gang unit -- the Operation Safe Streets bureau -- to 18 investigators, who will focus exclusively on Compton's gangs. Moreover, I have instructed my homicide bureau to add 14 new investigators to meet this same challenge in Compton. These detectives will form a new task force working with OSS to stop these killings. Our increased presence in Compton is going to dramatically change the picture.

I know that fear can prevent law-abiding citizens from offering up important information that could lead to solving a crime, but I want to say this to the residents of Compton: Please, if you have information regarding any of these murders, or any crime, call 1-(888)- COMPTON or post your tip anonymously at

A partnership between law enforcement and the community is essential for a safer, more secure community. Together, we must fight against the belief that nothing can be done or that nothing will be done. I do not believe that nothing can be done. I am tired of hearing myself say that the resources are not available, even when they are not. I am going to try and fix this problem with existing resources. I promise the people of Compton, as well as the rest of Los Angeles County, that I and my department will do everything possible to improve this situation by the end of this year. We intend to see this through along with the good citizens of Compton. Together, we can make it happen.

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