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'We're not going away,' LAPD says

Police tell residents that there will be regular foot patrols of the Drew Street area over coming weeks.

June 26, 2008|Sam Quinones and Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles police have set up a mobile command center on Drew Street and will conduct regular foot patrols of the neighborhood over the next several weeks as part of their ongoing gang crackdown, police and city officials told Glassell Park residents at a community meeting Wednesday night.

"We've done these kinds of operations before. We arrest a lot of people, make a big splash and then pull out," said LAPD Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz, who was joined at the meeting by City Councilman Eric Garcetti and U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O'Brien. "But we're not going away. We're going to stay here."

Frank Silva, 20, who was among 250 area residents attending the meeting at the Glassell Park Community Center, said he hoped Wednesday's police raid would in fact be the start of a greater law enforcement presence in the neighborhood. "It's pretty dangerous here," he said.

Others were skeptical.

Chris Mancilla, 20, who lives on Eagle Rock Boulevard in the heart of the Avenues gang's turf, came to the meeting with his 7-month-old daughter, Destiny, "to see what's going on in the neighborhood."

Like others, he said he awoke Wednesday morning to the sound of police helicopters overhead.

After the meeting, Mancilla said he doubted that the LAPD and city officials would be able to hold the ground they claimed in the raid.

"It's the same thing they always say," he said. "They're not actually going to get anything done."

Hade Mahdamad, 23, a resident of Drew Street for almost three years, said he awoke to the sound of "breaking windows like Afghanistan" as police broke into nearby residences.

He expressed deep frustration at what he saw as the excessive show of force by police and federal agents.

"I have nothing against the cops, but we're not animals," he said. "I appreciate the fact that they came out, but there's ways of doing this that doesn't hurt other people."

The neighborhood first came to the attention of most people only after undercover police officers got into a shootout there in February with gang members who had allegedly killed a man in the nearby Cypress Park neighborhood. But police had long had Drew Street on their radar.

Many of the immigrant families on Drew Street whose members authorities have charged with criminal acts hail from the town of Tlalchapa in the state of Guerrero, which has a reputation as one of Mexico's most violent regions. Police estimate that dozens of members of these extended families belong to the Avenues gang.

"It's been a safety net for them to rely on each other -- brothers, cousins and all," LAPD Lt. Robert Lopez said earlier this year. "The likelihood of someone within your family ratting you out is really low."

Poverty sent many Tlalchapans to the U.S. looking for work in the early 1970s. But so did the violence stemming from the Mexican drug trade and deadly family feuds, authorities and former residents said.

Fights, parties and heavy drinking became more common, according to authorities and residents. Minor disputes escalated into gunplay.

As the number of Guerrero immigrants grew, the area's white residents began to flee and the number of apartment buildings in the neighborhood doubled.

Living conditions began to resemble those in many public housing projects, particularly on Drew Street, where the concentration of apartments was the greatest, authorities said. Poor people crowded into the long buildings, which were hard for police to patrol and easy for criminals to hide in.

On Wednesday, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's office sued seven Drew Street property owners to force them to clean up their homes and apartment buildings.

Among the conditions his office is asking a judge to impose is that owners live in their buildings and provide security guards and video cameras. A court hearing is scheduled for July 8.

In 2002, Delgadillo's office hit the Avenues gang with an injunction, making it illegal for known members to congregate or ride in cars together throughout much of Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park and Eagle Rock. In 2007, his office closed two houses on Drew Street that police said had been the center of drug dealing.

Police and city officials said Wednesday's raid signaled a new commitment to curb crime in the neighborhood.

A Department of Water and Power truck showed up Wednesday morning and a worker cut down six pairs of tennis shoes hanging from telephone wires. Tennis shoes on wires typically are signs to drug buyers that they can purchase drugs nearby, police said.

"We chopped off the head of a gang today," Garcetti told the crowd Wednesday night. "I don't blame you if you're cynical and pessimistic tonight. I know that similar things have been done and the crime and the drugs came back."

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sam.quinones@latimes.com

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

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