Gang crackdown sought in Pomona
By Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein
Times Staff Writers
April 27, 2004
Saying that local police were “outnumbered,” a Pomona councilwoman called Monday for a court order against the 12th Street gang after a wannabe member had shot and killed a California Highway Patrol officer last week.
Councilwoman Norma Torres called on the city’s lawyers to seek an order that would prevent gatherings of the 12th Streeters, the San Gabriel Valley’s largest and reportedly most ruthless gang with nearly 1,000 members and associates.
Valentino Mitchell Arenas, 16, allegedly told authorities that he shot CHP Officer Thomas Steiner at random outside the Pomona courthouse in the hope of gaining status with the gang.
“To stop short of an injunction against the 12th Street gang would be an insult to this officer,” Torres said.
Private services for Steiner, who is survived by his wife and a child, are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Calvary Chapel in Downey.
Arenas will be tried for murder as an adult.
As anger was building over Steiner’s slaying, Pomona Mayor Eddie Cortez and other city officials said they would create an antigang task force. Councilman George Hunter denounced gang members as terrorists.
The Pomona 12th Street gang is one of at least 15 gangs within the city and claims as turf much of south Pomona, which includes the civic center and courthouse. The gang, which has close ties to one of California’s most powerful prison gangs, the Mexican Mafia, uses the shark as its symbol and has spread into eastern San Bernardino County. In recent years, the gang has been suspected of complicity in the racially motivated murders of two African Americans.
Pomona’s homicide rate has declined from more than 30 annually in the early 1990s to 18 in 2002 and 17 last year. In the first two months of 2004, as homicides continued to decline, aggravated assaults, which include shootings, jumped by more than 40% over last year.
“We’ve had a Band-Aid approach,” said Torres, a Los Angeles police dispatcher. “Our police officers under Chief [James Lewis] are doing the best job they can, but they are outnumbered and overworked and they need some help.”
In Los Angeles, civil injunctions that bar certain gang members from congregating, flashing gang signs, violating curfews or wearing certain attire have been a staple of law enforcement’s antigang efforts since the early 1990s. Results, according to most accounts, have been mixed.
Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Wes McBride said that an antigang injunction in Pomona could succeed if enforcement was comprehensive and sustained.
“Pomona is a good place to start,” said McBride, president of the Assn. of California Gang Investigators. “It’s isolated compared to South Los Angeles, where there are 38 gangs in a seven-square-mile area.”
Injunctions are labor intensive, McBride said. To succeed, they must be supported by judges and prosecutors and ongoing police operations.
They also must work closely with intervention programs, which provide support for members who want to leave the gang, he said. “If a guy wants out, you have to have a place to direct him,” McBride said.
Torres, however, conceded that Pomona was strapped for police resources. Facing a budget crunch that could mean 24 fewer officers next year, she said, she is appealing for state and county help to tackle the Pomona gangs. The department has 180 officers.
“It’s good people are getting their ire up,” McBride said. “It’s a shame it takes the death of a police officer, but it always does. It always takes bloody or vicious incidents to get people’s attention.”
Arenas will be arraigned May 5 at the courthouse where he has allegedly admitting killing Steiner. Deputy Dist. Atty. Darren Levine said Arenas was “enamored with the 12th Street gang.” He reportedly told police that he was hunting a police officer.