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Weekend of death

Despite spikes such as the 14 killed in two days, overall the city's strategy to reduce crime is working.

June 10, 2008

Los Angeles County suffered a convulsion of murder over the weekend, leaving, along with at least 14 dead, a sense of hopelessness about the region's seeming inability to turn the corner on violence. The spate of killings was hardly an anomaly. The east San Fernando Valley saw an explosion of deadly shootings in May; killings continue at a heartbreaking rate in South Los Angeles.

Most of the county's homicides are committed in its largest jurisdiction, the city of Los Angeles, where residents sometimes have trouble grasping the issue because so much of the violence is geographically contained. Panorama City is being rocked by a murder spike, but not Sherman Oaks. Parts of South Los Angeles may be under siege, but that does not directly affect Cheviot Hills.

Except that it does. The Los Angeles Police Department is stretched too thin to give every neighborhood the protection it deserves. So it emphasizes flexibility, standing ready to quickly redeploy to trouble spots as the need arises. It's a smart use of limited resources, but it leaves residents of many communities feeling vulnerable. The Valley shootings have hit Northridge as well as Arleta, Valley Glen as well as North Hollywood.

This level of violence need not be inevitable, but it is unlikely that the city will ever be homicide-free. There will continue to be crimes of passion and anger. And it is important to note that crime in Los Angeles has dropped precipitously in the last decade. Even with the increase in homicides, management of violent crime is moving in the right direction.

Except for gang crime, which is the cause of so many killings, both targeted and random. To effectively deal with the growth of gangs, the city needs a larger LAPD. It is a priority so pressing that recent mayors have pushed the limits of propriety and fiscal responsibility to get the money to hire more cops. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has turned to higher trash collection fees and a budget that pushes some hard decisions to future years. But expanding the department is the proper course.

Still, even law enforcement leaders concede that suppression alone can't stop the city from producing its best-known product -- gang members. Villaraigosa and his top gang strategist, Jeff Carr, are reconfiguring how the city diverts potential new members and stops those already in gang life from killing. The importance of that experiment cannot be underestimated. The city will watch -- impatiently.

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