LAPD Changes, Parolees Fuel Rise in Gang Violence
Homocide Rates Have Soared By Almost 79% In The Past Two Years.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, 15 April 2002
LOS ANGELES – In a city known for its gang violence, growing numbers of hard-core prison parolees combined with young recruits are fueling a sharp increase in gang-related crimes, particularly murder.
A series of police reforms, initiated in response to rogue cops working in the Rampart gang unit, also may have contributed to the increase.
Through February of this year, 63 people have died in gang-related murders in Los Angeles, more than triple the number for the same period in 2000.
“We’re losing the war,” said Council Member Dennis Zine, a former Los Angeles Police Department sergeant. “The gang members believe they have the upper hand. Cops are intimidated to do the job.”
Gang members arrested during the height of the city’s gang warfare in the early 1990s are being released from prison at a rate of 500 a month, according to California Department of Corrections statistics.
Those hardened veterans are mixing with new gang members, some as young as 9 years old, police and gang experts told the Daily News of Los Angeles.
“Gang crime is sensationalized. It’s in TV, the newspapers. Little kids look up to the tougher kids. Older gangsters are recruiting young kids’ said Lt. Gary Nanson, who oversees some of LAPD’s special enforcement units.
Gang violence has contributed to an almost 79% rise in the homicide rates during the past two years. Violent crime is up by almost 21% over the same period.
Meanwhile, arrests for the first three months of this year are down by 12% from 2000.
Police acknowledge that the Rampart scandal, in which gang-unit officers framed gang members and shot suspects without cause, has hampered efforts to control gang violence.
To curb the abuses, gang units citywide were disbanded and their responsibilities distributed among narcotics officers, detectives and new gang-suppression units.
It makes it harder for us to do our jobs,” Nanson said.
“That’s just the facts.”
Internal troubles, including low morale, more than 1,100 unfilled police jobs and a Police Commission decision to oust Chief Bernard Parks, have contributed to the problems.
“Word travels that there aren’t enough cops on the streets,” said Steve Martinez, a former gang member who now does intervention with Victory Outreach. “It’s like a kid trying to get away with something if a parent is not around.”
Internal reforms, including a beefed-up complaint system that seeks to root out problem officers, have made officers less aggressive, because they are afraid of triggering an internal investigation, some officers said.
“Gang members are filing complaints against cops,” Zine said.
“What amazes me is that the department weighs a complaint from a gang member who has a history of violence the same way as an honest citizen’s complaint. Let’s be fair.”