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EDITORIAL PROTECTING HOODLUMS SPECIAL ORDER 40 TIES LAPD'S HANDS IN WAR ON GANGS.

FOR too long, the Los Angeles Police Department has had to wage its fight against gangs with one arm tied behind its back - hampered by Special Order 40, the 20-year-old policy that prohibits police officers from asking suspects, witnesses and victims about immigration status.

But if the city is ever going to defeat the gang culture that terrorizes its neighborhoods, it's going to need to start using every weapon at its disposal.

And that includes immigration laws.

No, that doesn't mean bringing back the bad old days of immigration sweeps, of L.A. cops playing Immigration and Naturalization Service and harassing immigrant communities throughout the city. It's those horrors that made immigrants reluctant to deal with the police, compromising public safety for everyone and resulting in Special Order 40 in the first place.

But for all the abuses of those days, there are corresponding lapses in tough policing today. Known gang members who are illegal immigrants walk the city's streets because cops lack the goods to put them away, even though cops could expel at least some of the gangsters from the country in an instant, simply by enforcing federal immigration laws that are already on the books.

There needs to be a reasonable, common-sense approach to dealing with illegal immigrants who are also violent criminals, drug dealers and the like. While L.A. must never go back to the dark days of immigration sweeps, it cannot continue to operate under the blindness of Special Order 40 that lets thugs roam free and puts everyone - especially members of immigrant communities - at risk.

A sensible place would be to submit the names of those listed on citywide gang injunctions - known members of gangs engaging in criminal activity - to the INS to verify their immigration status. Those who are here illegally could be deported, making the streets safer for all, without infringing on anyone's civil liberties.

Such a strategy is a natural fit for Police Chief William Bratton's ``broken windows'' approach to policing. A key component of the theory is using minor offenses - in New York, Bratton's cops went after subway turnstile-jumpers - to find serious offenders, such as parole violators or people carrying illegal weapons.

And it's also in keeping with City Hall's long-standing promise to use every possible means, such as gang injunctions, to go after the city's street terrorists. Neither anachronistic policies nor political correctness should keep the LAPD from doing all it can to keep Los Angeles safe.

Nonetheless, city leaders are skittish about touching the sacred cow that is Special Order 40.

``Immigration is a federal issue, a federal responsibility,'' says City Councilman Dennis Zine, a former cop, and he's right. But fighting gangs is a city responsibility, and where federal policy and city policing overlap, Washington and City Hall must work together.

Special Order 40 has its purpose. Yet originally, it was supposed to make the LAPD more effective, and to the extent that it keeps the city from fighting gangs, it's now having precisely the opposite effect.

It's time to revisit the policy so Special Order 40 stops serving gangs, and starts serving the public.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 21, 2003
Words:519
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