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L.A. shifts tactics against gangs

The city will focus on the worst ones regardless of size and use 'stay-away' orders against leaders.

January 10, 2007|Patrick McGreevy and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles' top law enforcement officials have agreed on a new attack on gang violence, one that focuses more enforcement on smaller neighborhood gangs and uses a new legal tool tried last year on skid row.

The effort comes as L.A. officials are trying to quell a 14% increase in gang-related crime during the last year, marked by several high-profile incidents of race-motivated violence.

LAPD Chief William J. Bratton met this week with Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and representatives of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo to begin formulating the plan.

Bratton announced Tuesday that his department is developing a "Top 10" list of gangs to target based on a complex formula -- and then the three agencies will devote additional officers and attorneys specifically to those gangs.

The campaign will include targeting the leaders and headquarters of the worst gangs.

Police have identified 720 street gangs in Los Angeles, with 39,315 members. But officials said a small number of them are causing a disproportionate amount of crime in the hardest-hit neighborhoods.

The new strategy is something of a shift for law enforcement officials, who have until now focused much attention on larger gangs that run drug rings and other criminal enterprises.

Bratton told the Police Commission that his office will identify "the most prolific gangs in the city, the top 10, if you will.

"We will be using a matrix that encompasses violent crime committed by the gangs, interracial crime, assaults on police officers," Bratton said. "That's how we will winnow the hundreds of gangs in the city down to those that we will focus most of our attention on."

Deputy Police Chief Charlie Beck, the commanding officer of the South Bureau, said the matrix will give extra weight to certain kinds of activity, such as race-based attacks.

As a result, the 204th Street gang in the Harbor Gateway will probably make the top 10 list even though it has committed fewer crimes than much larger gangs, Beck said.

Police have accused members of that Latino gang of the racially motivated killing of a 14-year-old African American girl.

The LAPD has already deployed an extra 18 officers to the neighborhood, and Beck said the number could double once 204th Street is included in the top 10 list.

Another gang likely to be considered for the list is Canoga Park Alabama, a relatively small gang that police say is responsible for a disproportionate amount of violence in the Valley, where gang crime was up nearly 40%.

Jeff Isaacs, chief of criminal prosecutions for the city attorney's office, agreed that the new strategies on gangs are going to particularly target areas that haven't been traditional gang strongholds: Harbor Gateway and parts of the San Fernando Valley where gang crime climbed at a higher rate than in the more infamous gang territories.

"The San Fernando Valley has seen a real spike in gang crime," Cooley said.

Prosecutors also plan to use "stay-away orders" against gang leaders. Such orders are included in the terms of offenders' probation and forbid them from being in a certain neighborhood. Officials hope these orders will be more effective than traditional gang injunctions, which prohibit gang members from congregating.

Stay-away orders, which were employed against drug users on skid row, can be easier to enforce, because they are a condition of probation and a violation can immediately put the offender back in jail. And, under a new early-release policy set to be implemented soon, the Los Angeles County sheriff will no longer hold inmates sentenced to County Jail under gang injunctions for their entire sentences.

In addition to prosecutors targeting leaders of the selected gangs with court orders, Delgadillo said his office plans to file nuisance abatement lawsuits to target gang headquarters.

"We are going to go after the top 10 hangouts in the city of Los Angeles," he said. "Gangs -- like other enterprises -- need a place to plan."

He said his office successfully used this tactic on an apartment complex at 69th and Main streets, which he said was home to the East Coast Crips gang.

The situation in Harbor Gateway may end up being a model for the new effort.

Bratton said he has put Beck in charge of a working group to address the problems in the Harbor Gateway area, where some African American residents said Latino gangs do not allow them onto certain streets.

He said the new strategy will include the use of gang injunctions ordering gang members not to loiter or congregate in the area, as well as stay-away orders aimed at gang leaders who have been convicted of crimes.

"There are no injunctions in that area," Beck said.

Cooley said he's ready to seek the stay-away orders.

African American community activist Morris Griffin attended the Police Commission meeting Tuesday to call for action to stop the racial violence, including the installation of surveillance cameras on street corners where crime is occurring.

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