Los Angeles names and targets city’s worst 11 gangs

Mayor and police chief vow to pursue the groups with local-federal law enforcement teams. Experts question the strategy.
By Patrick McGreevy and Richard Winton, Times Staff Writers
February 8, 2007

Launching a counteroffensive against organized street thugs, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and police officials took the unusual step Wednesday of identifying the city’s 11 worst gangs, then promising to go after them with teams of police, federal agents, probation officers and prosecutors.

Facing 720 identifiable gangs with 39,000 members, the city’s plan would target the most dangerous groups, which total at least 800 members. Those gangs are thought to be responsible for a disproportionate amount of mayhem.

The gangs on the list are believed to have committed 6% of the violent crime that occurred in the city last year.

How many local and federal officers will be committed to the anti-gang push remained unclear, however. And given the complexity of what has been a long-standing social problem, some experts questioned whether the plan would be any more effective than past police crackdowns.

Overall, serious crime declined in Los Angeles last year, but violent, gang-related crime increased 14%.

Gang crime was even higher in areas such as South Los Angeles, where it increased 25%, and a section of the north San Fernando Valley where it grew by nearly 160%.

“Street gangs are responsible for the majority of all the murders in Los Angeles and nearly 70% of all the shootings,” Villaraigosa said Wednesday at a previously scheduled international summit on gang issues in Universal City. “We must work to address gang violence in a truly comprehensive way.”

Although the police had identified certain gangs on occasion, especially when they appeared to be involved in high-profile crimes, the LAPD historically has not called out their names “because of the widely held perception that doing so elevated the criminals’ influence and standing in the gang community,” the mayor’s plan says.

“This new strategy abandons the earlier posture and challenges these menaces by exposing their corrosive behavior to the scrutiny of a more informed and confident community,” the plan says.

But Wes McBride, executive director of the California Gang Investigators Assn. and a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, said he was “not sure” that identifying the gangs was a good idea.

“These guys keep the clippings, and I don’t know if you can really say which are the most dangerous gangs on any one day,” he said. “It is the kind of advertising you don’t need.”

McBride said he feared that some gangs would feel slighted if not named and might try to up the ante with more violent crimes.

Najee Ali, a community activist and former gang member, said he also was opposed to any ranking system. “The mayor and chief shouldn’t be legitimizing the gangs,” he said. “To the gang members it is a badge of honor.”

The list of targeted gangs includes the 204th Street gang in Harbor Gateway, which is believed to be responsible for recent racially motivated attacks and will be the subject of a special abatement effort. The list also includes Canoga Park Alabama, whose members’ recent violent acts have contributed to gang crime skyrocketing 43% in the San Fernando Valley.

The other gangs on the list include 18th Street Westside in the LAPD’s Southeast Division; the Avenues gang in the Northeast Division; the Grape Street Crips in the Southeast Division; Black P-Stones in the Southwest Division; the La Mirada Locos in the Rampart and Northeast divisions; the Mara Salvatrucha in the Rampart, Hollywood and Wilshire divisions; the Rollin’ 40s and Rollin’ 30s Harlem Crips, both in Southwest, and the Rollin’ 60s in the 77th Street Division.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang has up to 50,000 members in six countries, but police will focus on cliques that operate in a few local high-crime neighborhoods.

The LAPD already has shifted 18 additional officers to the 204th Street gang turf and is expected to double that amount soon. Smaller deployments are expected for other gang-infested neighborhoods.

An additional 50 officers will be assigned to a Community Safety Operations Center in the Valley, which will analyze real-time crime data to rapidly and strategically deploy officers, including high-visibility patrols, in crime-ridden regions of the Valley.

The mayor and chief are set to formally unveil their plan at 2:30 p.m. today at the Valley’s Mission Community Police Station.

Most of the gangs on the list already have been hit with injunctions that restrict their movements and ability to socialize, and some have been in the crosshairs of local and federal authorities for years.

But Villaraigosa said that the new plan is not as piecemeal as previously, and that the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, county probation agents, county and city prosecutors, and the U.S. attorney’s office have signed on to step up pressure.

“We, the police, law enforcement, can do a great deal working collectively together, with force magnification, to reduce this problem,” said Police Chief William J. Bratton on Wednesday.

But, Villaraigosa added, the gang-suppression plan was only the first step in stabilizing crime-ridden neighborhoods. He said the city would later provide prevention and intervention programs to keep young people out of gangs.

The chief acknowledged that with a police force already stretched thin and expansion occurring slowly, he would have to redeploy existing officers to hot spots in the immediate future.

McBride, the gang expert, cautioned that plans without resources often fall short.

“Until everyone hires a bunch more cops, you are shoving sand in the wind,” he said.

In addition to releasing a list of targeted gangs, the LAPD has submitted the name of a fugitive gang member for placement on the FBI’s most wanted list and will submit another name when the first fugitive is captured, officials said.

The submissions will come from the LAPD’s own list of its 10 most wanted gang fugitives, which also was released Wednesday. It includes Merced “Shadow” Cambero, from the Avenues gang, and Kody “Monster Cody” DeJohn Scott, from the 8-Trey Gangster Crips.

Also, the plan includes the appointment of an LAPD gang coordinator, creates a South Bureau Criminal Gang Homicide Group, designates additional patrol officers in gang territories to enforce injunctions and warrants, and proposes community symposiums on gang awareness in affected neighborhoods.

Malcolm Klein, a professor emeritus at USC and a gang expert, said the city’s gang plan would appear to use a “tip of the iceberg” strategy.

“Targeting hot spots for gangs — that is not much different than the past,” Klein said.

He also questioned the methods used to choose which gangs belonged on the worst 11 list.

“The level of violence generated by a gang makes sense to me. But the interracial conflict [at the root of the 204th Street gang murders] is not common, and shooting at police officers also isn’t common. The last two are more political than rational.”

However, the idea of focusing on the most violent gangs was supported by Alex Alonso, an academic who studies gang territories in Los Angeles and runs the website streetgangs.com.

“What they did under [former Police Chief Daryl F.] Gates didn’t work: Suppress everyone. Now they want to be more focused on the most hard-core gang members, that 10% who are really responsible for violence,” Alonso said.

*

(INFOBOX BELOW)

Top targets

Here are the areas where the gangs targeted by Los Angeles city officials operate:

1. Canoga Park Alabama

2. Avenues

3. Mara Salvatrucha

4. La Mirada Locos

5. 18th Street Westside

6. Black P-Stones

7. Rollin’ 30s

Rollin’ 40s

8. Rollin’ 60s

9. Grape Street Crips

10. 204th Street

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