Villaraigosa unveils new gang strategy

By Rick Orlov, Daily News Staff Writer
Updated: 01/29/2009 10:54:23 PM PST

Pledging that Los Angeles will see a 15 percent drop in gang crime this year, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton unveiled an ambitious new plan Thursday to fight gangs and steer potential members into safer activities.

Coming on top of an 11 percent drop in gang crime since January 2007, the new goal would lead to 26 fewer murders and 1,000 fewer victims of crime over the next year, Bratton said.

One of the keys to the new effort, which involved a reorganization of the LAPD, is a rapid response.

“If some sociopath wants to stick his neck out to commit violence or murder, we will be there to lop it off,” Bratton said.

Bratton said the officers responding to a gang-related murder will arrest the shooters, seek to disrupt the gang activity and work to cool tensions to try to prevent retaliations.

“Once our commander gets word on his BlackBerry that a murder has been committed, we will be moving in,” Bratton said. “We will contact the gang units, the gang-intervention officers and a special motor unit who will know all the cars the gang members drive. We will seize them. We will go after their cars, after their profit centers, and we will get all that money.”

After a meeting with police commanders and community leaders at the new Rampart Division Station, Bratton and Villaraigosa said they were building on the foundation started two years ago when gang crime seemed out of control.

Villaraigosa said the city is continuing with its targeted list of gangs and gang members – concentrated most heavily in South Los Angeles, but the San Fers gang in the San Fernando area and Canoga Park Alabama are high on the list.

“Although crime is down to its lowest level since I was a 3-year-old in 1956 and gang homicides are down to levels not seen since 1969, we are losing too many youths to senseless violence,” Villaraigosa said.

“In the past, we used to spread gang services like peanut butter across the city. Now, we are going to deploy our resources in a more strategic way.”

Last year, a city audit found that gang programs were less effective because they were divided among multiple city agencies and recommended they instead be consolidated in the Mayor’s Office. Those steps were taken and the new programs are a result of that effort, officials said.

Deputy Mayor Jeff Carr, in charge of prevention and intervention programs, said there will be teams operating throughout the city by April 1 with a new strategy targeting a dozen of the most gang- infested neighborhoods.

Carr said the city soon will start a gang-intervention academy, working with former gang members to help keep kids out of gangs and assist those looking to leave.

“We know these people have a background,” Carr said. “We will be keeping tabs on them. There will be random drug testing, and we will know if they are having problems and have been arrested or are in trouble.”

Carr said the city will expand its successful Saturday Night Lights program from eight to 15 parks, including some in the San Fernando Valley as well as new activities at a school and housing projects.

Bratton said the new divisions working on gangs will not take away from existing patrol officers around the city. The expansion is possible because of the new officers who have been hired to grow the LAPD by 1,000 officers, to 10,000, he said.

Overseeing the rapid response team is a new commander, with authority over the LAPD gang units, Metro Division and other units as needed. Also, the Gang Operations and Narcotics divisions are being combined into one unit and a new Executive Ad Hoc Committee on Gangs is being created to oversee the programs.

City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said his office recently won its 66th gang injunction and recently was able to hold a gang liable for $5 million in damages.

“For the first time in my law enforcement career, with respect to gangs, it feels like we’re winning,” Delgadillo said.

The officials said they also have stepped up enforcement of immigration laws on gang members.

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