Gang Killings Down for 5th Year

July 3, 2001 LA Times

Gang Killings Down for 5th Year;
Violence: Officials cite tough sentencing laws, saying that the decline is allowing them to reopen old cases.

BYLINE: STUART PFEIFER, TIMES STAFF WRITER

BODY:
Gang-related homicides in Orange County dropped for the fifth consecutive year in 2000, a signal that tough sentencing laws have removed some of the county’s most violent predators from the streets, law enforcement officials said Monday.

The county’s 16 gang killings last year marked a 78% decline from the peak in 1993, when officials deemed gang violence an epidemic, according to figures released by the Orange County district attorney’s office.

The number of gangs and gang members in Orange County also decreased, the report stated.

“It’s much safer and much quieter than it was a decade ago, dramatically different,” said Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters. “It has been a tremendous turnaround.”

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas credited the drop in part to new laws that tack on additional prison time–decades in some cases–to those convicted of gang-related crimes. The number of gang members in Orange County has dropped 10% in the last two years to 17,995, the district attorney’s report estimates.

“These violent criminals, once they get the lengthy prison terms, we don’t see them again,” Rackauckas said.

“We’ve always known a very small minority of people commit a large number of the crimes. As you start putting them away, it starts making an impact.”

The decrease in Orange County’s gang violence was particularly noteworthy, officials said, because violent crime in the United States increased slightly last year after several years of decline, according to FBI figures.

Law enforcement officials in Orange County credited gang enforcement teams–one program combines district attorneys, probation officers and police–for the decreased violence.

Rackauckas noted that one recently enacted law can tack 10 years onto the sentence of anyone convicted of a crime in which a gun is used.

But less than a decade after gang violence seemed to be an epidemic in Orange County, detectives are finding the time to dust off old case files and look to solve murders from years past.

“Some of our senior officers say, ‘If you had told me 10 years ago what it would be like today, I never would have believed you,’ ” said Walters, whose 400-officer force is the county’s largest.

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