Two months into Los Angeles' much-touted gang crackdown, authorities appears to be making solid strides in South L.A. while struggling in the San Fernando Valley, according to an analysis of crime reports and arrest numbers.
The crackdown by the Los Angeles Police Department has resulted in more than 820 arrests, including the jailing of dozens of so-called shot callers or gang leaders, and a reversal of last year's increase in gang violence in much of the city.
Citywide, gang crime is down 6.2% so far this year, compared with a 15.7% increase last year.
The decline includes a dramatic drop in homicides. There have been 22 gang-related slayings through February, nearly half as many as the 43 killings during the same period last year.
Still, there is growing concern about a geographical imbalance, particularly as crime continues to rise in the Valley.
While gang crimes are down so far this year in the Central, South and West bureaus, they increased 16% in the Valley Bureau. That follows last year's 43% increase in gang crime in the Valley.
The increase this year includes a 21% jump in gang crime in the West Valley Division, home to the Canoga Park Alabama gang, which has been identified by the LAPD as one of the worst 11 gangs in the city.
The crime spike occurred despite the efforts of a special Valley gang task force of 50 additional officers.
That task force has made 461 arrests in the last six weeks, including the arrests of 61 gang members, officials said Friday.
Cmdr. Valentino Paniccia said gang crime is up because the task force concentrated on only two of the five divisions in the Valley and is just now shifting to others.
Officials also noted Valley crime is rising slower than last year.
"Our increase is decreasing," Paniccia said.
So far this year, officers have arrested 35 members of the Canoga Park Alabama gang, which is considered one of the worst because of several shootings of African Americans by Latino gang members.
"We've made over 20 arrests of shot callers and the most active gang members," Paniccia said.
The Canoga Park arrests included the March 18 apprehension of Edgar Ramirez, 20, and Pedro Rodriguez, 21, for allegedly spraying graffiti, including the gang initials CPA, on four apartment buildings near Mason Avenue and Cohasset Street.
Despite the crackdown, Van Nuys Division gang crime for the first two months is up 83% -- 55 crimes compared with 30 at this time last year. But those numbers remain small compared to more violent parts of the city.
The police say the Valley is relatively safer than other parts of the city despite the continuing spike in crime.
In the LAPD's Southwest Division there were 124 gang-related crimes in January and February -- much higher than any division in the Valley, whose leading gang-crime division, Foothill, recorded 71 gang crimes.
The crackdown is hitting especially hard against the LAPD's 11 worst gangs.
So far this year, the police have arrested 392 members of those gangs, according to figures released Friday.
Hardest hit has been the 18th Street Westside, with 71 members arrested since Jan. 1. "It's going very, very well," Police Chief William J. Bratton said.
But some observers said it is far too early to claim victory.
"It hopefully is a trend, but I doubt it," said Wes McBride, executive director of the California Gang Investigators Assn. "I would attribute it to heavy suppression and all the media attention. The gangs do what I call a turtle act: pull in their heads and feet into their shell and wait until the storm passes."
More than 20 members of the 204th Street gang in the Harbor Gateway area have been arrested in recent months, including six since Jan. 1. The LAPD has targeted the gang because its largely Latino members have been attacking African Americans in the last year.
The focus on the gang drew national attention on Jan. 18 when FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III joined Bratton for a news conference on 204th Street's turf to announce a joint effort to dismantle the gang.
Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, head of the South Bureau, said that mission has largely been accomplished.
"The 204th gang hasn't committed a crime in a month," Beck said. "They almost disappeared. Their shot callers are in jail. These shot callers won't get out again. The top end of the organization is gone. The gang is finished."
It's not just the police who have noticed the difference.
The crackdown has made a big difference on the street, said Howard Uller, president emeritus of Toberman Settlement House, which provides gang intervention services.
"There is no violence. A lot of their key leaders are in jail," Uller said. "There are so many police officers on the street that they can't do anything."
Gang crime in South Bureau increased 25% last year, but it is down slightly for the first two months of this year.