- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 15 (UPI) — An ambitious citywide crackdown on street gangs in the murder capital of the nation was announced Wednesday by Los Angeles city officials, who pledged not to turn the offensive into a wide-scale harassment of the city's minority youth.

Mayor Jim Hahn and Police Chief William Bratton said a pilot program in which police operations were streamlined and community groups were enlisted to assist both law enforcement and at-risk youths would be expanded citywide in an effort to curb violent crime.

There were 658 homicides in the City of Angels last year, 334 of which were considered gang-related.

Bratton told reporters Wednesday that in recent months, the LAPD had "been on the bench" in its dealing with the sprawling city's myriad gangs due to manpower shortages and "bankers' hours" worked by detectives and gang officers.

"We haven't even been on the field," said Bratton, a former New York police commissioner. "Today marks us getting back into the game."

Bratton, who succeeded Bernard Parks as chief last autumn, reassured the city that his program would not be a repeat of the often-maligned crackdowns instituted by Daryl Gates and other chiefs. These had served to feed the impression that the LAPD had a penchant for harassing teenagers who were doing nothing more than walking down the street.

"We're not going to be going into neighborhoods and throwing black and Latino kids up against the fence," Bratton said in his distinct New England accent.

Residents of gang territories appeared anxious to reduce the danger level in their neighborhoods, although they remained leery of a possible return of the bad old days.

"There were mass roundups, and them coming over with 15 cars and beating everybody when a lot of times those people weren't even (gang) bangers," one young man told television station KCBS.

An overhaul of police tactics, including assigning more detectives to work nights and weekends, was launched in November in the LAPD's South Bureau, which encompasses the South Central and San Pedro areas. It was successful enough to be expanded Wednesday to the entire city of nearly 10 million souls.

In the six weeks prior to the program, South Bureau had 39 murders. In the following six weeks, there were 21. Although 21 still is a high number of deaths, police said they were cautiously optimistic that the strategy might have worked.

The plan includes keeping the public involved by supporting efforts to keep youths out of the gang life and, failing that, acting as the LAPD's eyes and ears in the rough neighborhoods where the Crips, Bloods and lesser known Latino, Asian and ethnic white gangs have thrived for years despite police efforts to curtail their activities.

"We are going to do this by working closely with the community," Bratton promised. "That's my commitment. We are going to do this with them."

Another difference this year is that other agencies ranging from the FBI to the California Youth Authority will be included in the anti-gang effort from the start, and gang leaders and their more violent members will be primary targets.

Hahn said: "We've got to begin with our biggest problem, which is gang violence that is terrorizing our community."

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