Killings Rise in Sheriff’s Jurisdiction

Killings Rise in Sheriff’s Jurisdiction
Homicides are up 11% so far this year in areas served by Baca’s department. Gang violence gets much of the blame.

By Rong-Gong Lin II, Times Staff Writer
July 2, 2005

Killings in communities served by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department rose 11% in the first six months of this year, even as homicides within the city of Los Angeles fell.

Officials blamed the spike on increased gang activity in areas such as Compton, Lynwood and surrounding communities, and Sheriff Lee Baca acknowledged Friday that his department has struggled to deal with the problem.

In Compton, the change is especially dramatic: While the first six months of 2004 saw 12 homicides, the lowest number in decades, 35 have already been recorded this year — just four shy of last year’s total.

“You’ve got to say to yourself, ‘Have we really seriously affected gangs and violence here?’ And the answer is no,” Baca said the day after his department buried a 15-year veteran who was shot and killed last week in Hawaiian Gardens; a longtime gang member is the main suspect.

Out of the 198 homicides that occurred in sheriff’s jurisdictions so far this year, at least 100 were gang-related, said Capt. Mike Ford, who heads the sheriff’s gang enforcement unit. Last year at this time, there had been 179 homicides.

By contrast, the Los Angeles Police Department has recorded a 7% drop in homicides citywide during the same period, from 257 last year to 238 this year. Even in high-crime areas of South Los Angeles, the number of killings has remained about even.

Ford acknowledged the LAPD’s record, pointing out that the department has focused more attention on gang crimes, including allocating more officers to special units and researching gang-crime patterns.

“They reorganized their gang units, they recognized the trend and devoted tremendous resources to it that we haven’t been able to match,” Ford said.

Although the Sheriff’s Department provides law enforcement services for communities throughout the county, officials said the spike in killings was most pronounced in a southern section of the county.

“There’s a lot of violence out there,” said Capt. Ray Peavy of the sheriff’s homicide bureau. “Gang activity is more prevalent today than it was a year ago, and it seems to be increasing.”

The number of homicides in areas served by the Sheriff’s Department rose steadily between 2001 and 2004 — increasing from 329 to 383, a 16% jump, according to the sheriff’s homicide unit. Meanwhile, areas served by the Los Angeles Police Department saw a decrease from 591 to 515, a 13% decline.

Baca said he did not believe the contrast between the county’s rising homicide count and the decline in the city of Los Angeles was significant. Even with downward crime trends reported by the LAPD in many categories, Baca said, crimes per capita remained higher in the city than in the county.

But some residents in the areas most severely hit with homicides and shootings said that their neighborhoods were being taken over by the violence and that law enforcement wasn’t doing enough to stop it.

“Every time I turn around, someone is telling me someone is shot,” said Royce Esters, a Compton resident who heads the National Assn. for Equal Justice in America. “It’s like people are slowly dying in Compton, and no one is saying [anything] about it.”

Esters said he planned to go to next week’s Compton City Council meeting to call for more law enforcement assistance from state and federal authorities, as well as to call on the Sheriff’s Department to investigate unsolved shootings.

Sheriff’s officials said they established a special task force of patrol officers and investigators about two months ago to concentrate on gang crime in the south area. The unit focused on two gangs in particular. After some arrests, Ford said, the gangs have been less active.

Baca himself is taking a different tack.

He plans to send letters to the homes of known gang members, as well as to their parents — even if the gang members are adults.

“It comes down to an issue of leadership. We need to say, ‘You have a choice. We know who you are and you know who we are. Here’s another way,’ ” Baca said, adding that written contacts would be a step toward making gang members aware of job training and gang intervention resources.

“Arresting gang members isn’t changing a darn thing — that we know,” Baca said.”Arrests are necessary. Criminals must be caught, charged and prosecuted, but just doing that isn’t enough to change violence.”

Despite the gang crackdown, law enforcement officials and residents were bracing for the coming months, when warm summer nights traditionally keep people out on the streets longer and attract more crime.

“It’s going to be a hot summer,” Esters said, adding that without additional resources, “it’s going to get worse.”

Homicide trend

Since 2001, homicides have been on the rise in the Los Angeles County sheriff’s jurisdiction, while they have been declining in the area served by the Los Angeles Police Department.

2001

LAPD cases: 591

Sheriff’s Department cases: 329

2002

LAPD cases: 647

Sheriff’s Department cases: 346

2003

LAPD cases: 517

Sheriff’s Department cases: 388

2004

LAPD cases: 515

Sheriff’s Department cases: 383

Jan. 1-July 1, ’05LAPD cases: 238

Sheriff’s Department cases: 198

Sources: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department

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