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Nationwide Spread of L.A. Gangs Is Alarming, FBI Says

Thursday, April 24, 1997
Nationwide Spread of L.A. Gangs Is Alarming, FBI Says
By ROBERT L. JACKSON, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON–The continuing migration of Los Angeles-based gangs across the nation is a matter of growing alarm to law enforcement authorities at all levels, an FBI official told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Steven Wiley, who heads the FBI’s violent crimes section, said that criminal groups claiming affiliation with the Bloods or Crips, which both originated in Los Angeles, have been reported in 180 communities in 42 states. Capt. James Mulvihill, head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s anti-gang unit, testified that in recent years other Los Angeles-based gangs have been extending their reach. He said that the notorious 18th Street gang–the largest of the area’s gangs–and a rival Latino group, Mara Salvatrucha, are among those “that have expanded their territories beyond their traditional neighborhood turf” to the East Coast and sometimes to the Caribbean.

The nationwide expansion has been in progress since the late 1980s and has continued despite concerted campaigns by law enforcement officers in Southern California and elsewhere to curb gang activity, the law enforcement officials said. And despite an influx of federal dollars for the hiring of more community-based police officers, the expansion has reached dire proportions, they warned.

The gang migration “has set in motion a social phenomenon of violence and . . . defiance among youth” that in turn has “drastically altered the violent crime problem of communities across the nation,” Wiley said.

The two officials testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the panel’s review of anti-gang legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).

Mulvihill testified that Los Angeles County’s 1,250 identifiable street gangs–consisting of about 150,000 members–were responsible for nearly 7,000 homicides in the last 10 years.

Feinstein said that the Justice Department estimates that there are 652,000 gang members across the nation, making the Los Angeles total nearly one-fourth of that number.

While avoiding specific endorsement of the bipartisan bill, known as the Federal Gang Violence Act of 1997, Wiley said that the FBI already is devoting more of its resources to criminal gang activity. The legislation, among other provisions, would authorize $20 million over five years to hire additional federal prosecutors to crack down on gang-related crimes.

The bill also would double penalties for criminal gang activity and extend the Federal Travel Act–which bans interstate or foreign travel to promote unlawful activity–to cover violent gang crimes.

Given the nationwide nature of the gang problem, Senate sources said that some form of new anti-gang legislation is expected to be approved this year. President Clinton has said that action by Congress to curtail gang crime is among the highest priorities of his second term.

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