Anti-gang unit arrests 64 suspects in L.A.
By Rachel Uranga
Less than a week after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared an all-out assault on the city's most violent gangs, police from a newly formed task force have arrested 64 people in some of the San Fernando Valley's most dangerous neighborhoods.
Officers from the 50-member violent-crime task force have stopped about 110 suspects over the past five days in the Valley, arresting 64 on charges ranging from narcotics and weapons possession to auto theft.
It's an early indication of how focused efforts can suppress violent crime, police said.
But questions remained about a crackdown on gangs -- like a litany of others before -- that could prove short-lived without a more comprehensive, and likely more costly, prevention strategy.
"Our concern is that the message that we want to send out there -- we are about prevention and intervention, but you are going to have to wait for that side of the strategy because right now it's about suppression," said Bobby Arias, co-founder of North Hills-based Communities in Schools, a gang prevention and intervention program.
"It can make our life difficult when what they are seeing at the community level is just the hammer."
Villaraigosa has vowed to introduce an intervention strategy as part of his anti-gang initiative. Meanwhile, an ad hoc committee on gangs headed by Councilman Tony Cardenas is evaluating the city's gang programs. A recent independent, city-funded study of the programs headed by civil-rights lawyer Connie Rice found them ineffective.
The roving task force will hit the Valley's most dangerous gang areas for the next six months to a year. The program will then be re-evaluated.
This week, the task force focused on North Hollywood and Van Nuys, home to the Barrio Van Nuys and Blythe Street gangs. Those communities account for 45 percent of the region's violent crimes so far this year.
"Our goal is to reduce violent crime 5 percent in the San Fernando Valley," said Lt. John McMahon, head of the task force and an 18-year LAPD veteran. "Traditionally, resources go to other areas where violent crime occurs. I cannot remember this type of resources ever dedicated to the violent crime in the Valley."
Last year, gang-related crime jumped 43 percent in the Valley and 14 percent citywide. The surge followed years of decreasing Valley crime rates.
Unlike patrol officers, the task force roams across the city. The tactic had been tried in the southern part of the city, where a majority of the violent gang-related crime occurs, but never in the Valley.
The most controversial part of the mayor's plan is a change in a decades-old LAPD policy that had prohibited officers from naming street gangs. Critics say naming them could now trigger a spate of violence among gang members jockeying for notoriety. McMahon disagreed.
"The increased public awareness about who (the gangs) are and how they affect different communities should trigger more cooperation with the public," he said.
Copyright 2007 Tower Media, Inc.
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