Schwarzenegger calls for coordinated attack on gangs

He proposes a statewide summit on street crime and says local officials should join forces when pursuing state funds to attack the problem.

By Stuart Pfeifer
Times Staff Writer

March 6, 2007

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Monday on mayors and law enforcement officials across California to join with him in forging a counterattack on street gangs blamed for much of the state’s violent crime.

Speaking at a news conference at Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department headquarters in Monterey Park, Schwarzenegger proposed a statewide summit after discussing the gang problem for about 40 minutes with L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, the sheriffs of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

After the meeting, Schwarzenegger said he supported a “coordinated approach” that could include state funding of local efforts to fight street gangs. He said local officials should join forces rather than separately seek state money to fight gang problems.

“I’m calling for a big meeting. Everyone could get together and come up with ideas. We have to put all this together and not piecemeal it,” Schwarzenegger said.

Baca said Los Angeles County was the “gang capital of America” and an appropriate place to hold the first of what he hoped would be several meetings about the state’s gang problems. He estimated that Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have 120,000 gang members.

Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said a coordinated approach would help “make sure we’re not just chasing gang members from one city to another.”

The governor pitched his idea one month after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and 19 other senators introduced legislation that calls for more than $1 billion in federal funding for gang enforcement, prevention and intervention programs.

The governor’s participation in the gang discussion came after he was accused by some of minimizing the effect of gang violence. He did not mention gang crime during his State of the State address in January and was criticized for not making stronger comments about the racially motivated slaying of 14-year-old Cheryl Green in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood of L.A. Authorities say Latino gang members targeted Green, an eighth-grader, because she was black.

“The governor is seeking to become more educated about the issue of gang violence in the state of California, and I think that’s important,” said state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles Democrat and member of the Senate Public Safety Committee.

“It’s high time there be a state approach to what’s going on in Los Angeles and the rest of the state.”

Ridley-Thomas, who has scheduled an anti-gang meeting in Los Angeles later this month, said he hoped Schwarzenegger and local officials would not focus exclusively on law enforcement efforts to curtail gang violence. He said a statewide anti-gang program would succeed only if it included other programs coordinated by business and religious leaders, educators and social workers as well as police.

“Suppression is a completely inadequate approach to the issue. That’s essentially what we’ve done over and over again, and the problem has only gotten worse,” Ridley-Thomas said. “It has to be balanced. You have to have law enforcement. You have to have suppression, prevention and intervention.”

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