LA county gets grant to target gangs, drugs

By Alison Hewitt
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune

LOS ANGELES COUNTY A grant received by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department last week will help a new team of deputies investigate gangs, find the "drug kingpins," and "eliminate" them by putting them in jail, said the captain of the Narcotics Bureau.

"Narcotics is the fuel that allows gangs to do what they do: It buys their guns," said bureau Capt. Dennis Werner. "By focusing on that and eliminating the heavy hitters, the violence goes down and the neighborhood gets better."

A $1.65million grant from the Department of Justice will create the new Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team, or GANET.

The roving team includes both gang investigators and narcotics investigators, blending their talents into a single task force for the first time, according to Sgt. Ronald Williams, who wrote the grant application.

"There was transparency before, but now they're under the same roof," William said.

GANET will include a lieutenant, a sergeant, four narcotics investigators and two gang investigators. They'll also work with a slew of other agencies: county probation, the state parole office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the District Attorney's Office, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, Williams said. More cooperation means more databases to mine, he said.

"I can't get into a whole lot of detail, but that's the gist of it," Williams said.

Werner was also reluctant to get into the nitty-gritty details about the team.

"We don't want to tip our hand too much, because a lot of these guys work undercover," he said. "All I can say is that it's legal."

But Werner did share some information about how the team would work.

He hopes GANET will begin working by January. The task force would rotate from one sheriff's station to another, switching every three months between the north county, the south central county and the east county a region that includes local stations such as Industry, Pico Rivera, and Walnut/Diamond Bar.

"They'll have to provide at least two deputies and some clerical support, or we'll go to another station," Werner said. "They work together to identify particularly violent gangs, and then they'll go in and ID the drug kingpins."

GANET will be a variation on an old team COMNET, or the Community Oriented Multiple Agency Narcotics Enforcement Team. COMNET was grant-supported in the '90s and part of this decade, but lost funding in June. COMNET's investigators have been relegated to other investigations since then, but will soon make up part of the GANET team, Werner said.

"They're some of the best investigators I have," he said. "I even get calls from cities saying, `Is there any way that you're going to have COMNET again?"'

But while COMNET gave deputies a chance to work with police officers, GANET will function solely within the Sheriff's Department, he said. GANET also narrows the focus to gang-related drug problems.

"With COMNET, the missions they were going to work on were developed with the local patrol station," Werner said. "We'd ask them, `What are your local narcotics problems?' and they'd identify a street or a house or a group. GANET is gang-driven."

Werner is eager to get the group started. The more people they can "take out of the trade," the fewer shootings and assaults there will be, he said.

"I know that we're not going to be out of business. As long as there's a market for drugs, this is going to occur," Werner said. "But we have to do the best we can to suppress that."

Copyright 2007 San Gabriel Valley Tribune

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