Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Los Angeles Police Broadening Antigang Efforts

Monday's New York Times ran an insightful article on the Los Angeles Police Department's antigang unit, which has gained increased attention from the community and political leaders following the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in the city:

At twilight on Friday, in the heart of the territory of the latest notorious Los Angeles gang, a woman in a passing car calls out a tip to Officer Dan Robbins, sending him racing toward a corner and a man he believes is a member of the 204th Street gang.

As Officer Robbins’s black-and-white patrol car speeds forward, the man, Jose Covarrubias, 20, turns away and drops what appears to be a small pipe.

“Come here! Get your hands up!” Officer Robbins of the Los Angeles Police Department shouts as he jumps out of the car and handcuffs Mr. Covarrubias, arresting him on suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia, a methamphetamine pipe.

“You arresting all the black people here on Harvard Boulevard, too?” Mr. Covarrubias asks, now seated on a curb, making plain the racial tension in this neighborhood, Harbor Gateway, that has commanded the city’s attention.

They know each other, this gang unit officer and Mr. Covarrubias, who Officer Robbins says is a relatively new member of 204th Street, a Latino gang that gained notoriety last month when two members were charged in what the police said was the racially motivated killing of a 14-year-old black girl, Cheryl Green.

The crime stunned the city as a sign of growing violence among blacks and Latinos in some struggling neighborhoods and brought renewed promises from the mayor, the police chief and the F.B.I. director to reverse a surge of gang violence. They have promised more officers chasing the worst gang members, more school and community counselors and more cooperation among agencies.

In the department’s Harbor Division, far from the worst in gang crime but the focus of political and news media attention since the killing, officers have started joint patrols with other police agencies. A deputy city attorney, Panagiotis Panagiotou, has ridden with Officer Robbins for part of his shift in an effort to broaden prosecutors’ gang knowledge.

Crucial to the effort are the knowledge and wherewithal of gang unit officers like Officer Robbins, whose focus is tracking gangs operating in and near Harbor Gateway, a compact 12-square-block collection of apartment houses and single-family homes in a narrow sliver of Los Angeles 20 miles from downtown.

Officer Robbins, 36, has been on the force for 12 years, the last two with the Harbor Division gang unit.

He embodies in many ways the newest incarnation of the gang enforcement detail, which has a storied but troubled past.

Los Angeles has long been a model for other cities in gang enforcement. Police officials from across the country and Latin America will gather here on Feb. 7 to share information and strategize. Chief William J. Bratton, visiting Washington this week, plans to meet with members of Congress and federal officials to advocate for more sharing of intelligence on gangs, terrorists and organized crime groups.
Read the whole thing. I was particularly impressed with the individual resourcefulness of Officer Dan Robbins, a member of the antigang unit, who has adapted his policing to the city's bureaucratic restraints (rules and procedures) that often limit the squad's effectiveness. The article also indicates that members of the Latino 204th Street gang harbor racial hatred of blacks, and some of the interracial violence reflects group competition over the recent demographic changes city neighborhoods. I blogged about this in an earlier post, "L.A. Gang Violence Stirs Fears of Ethnic Cleansing."

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