NEW ATTACK ON GANG CRIME LEADERS VOW TO FIGHT `ENEMY'.
Even as they boasted about an overall drop in crime, top Los Angeles officials declared Tuesday that they will step up efforts against a surge in gang violence in the San Fernando Valley and other parts of the city.
Specific details of the anti-gang effort were not released, but Police Chief William Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said it will target pockets where gang crime has bucked the overall trend and violence has escalated.
``Our new year's resolution is to make violent street gangs public enemy No. 1,'' Villaraigosa said.
In the Valley, for instance, gang-related homicides surged 30 percent last year, to 48, and much of the violence was blamed on warfare between black and Latino gangs.
``As crime continues to drop overall, we continue to see a glaring exception to that trend: gang crime,'' he said. ``Street gangs are becoming more violent specifically in the East Valley, the Eastside and the South L.A. neighborhoods they terrorize.''
Villaraigosa called Los Angeles the second-safest big city in the country after New York and touted five years of falling crime rates across the city. He attributed the trend to Bratton, whose policing efforts target high-crime hot spots and who is up for a second term this year.
Still, 2006 saw a 14 percent rise in gang-related crimes in Los Angeles, with more than half of all killings gang-related, in which either the victim or suspect was a gang member.
Drugs and entrenched gang culture continue to be at the core of crime in Los Angeles.
Though details of the anti-gang initiative have yet to be unveiled, Villaraigosa said that in the coming weeks he will meet with U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, members of the Legislature in Sacramento and with other federal officials to come up with a plan to toughen gang prosecutions and bring more resources to the anemic police force.
One thought, Bratton said, includes prosecuting specific gangs involved in interracial warfare on civil-rights charges.
``While we are feeling good ... there is still much more work to be done,'' Bratton said.
While Valley homicide rates jumped, citywide the homicide rate was down 2.4 percent, to 478 killings, and overall serious crime dropped 7.7 percent. The Valley, however, saw a double-digit increase in crime.
In all, 87 people were killed in the Valley last year -- 13 more than in 2005. There also were 460 more robberies in 2006 than in 2005, an 18.5 percent rise.
City Councilman Bernard Parks, the former police chief, says recent changes in crime reporting by the LAPD mask the truth about the city's crime rate.
``If you go out in public and listen, they know whether the city is safer than in the past and the public doesn't believe it's safer than it is in the past. It's just a manipulation of numbers.''
Smaller cities and unincorporated areas in Los Angeles County patrolled by the Sheriff's Department saw the first drops after several years of increasing violence.
The number of serious felonies in areas patrolled by the Sheriff's Department fell 4 percent, to 86,323, last year. That followed increases in serious crimes, which steadily rose from 86,289 in 2001 to 90,051 in 2005.
The number of gang homicides in sheriff's areas dropped 16 percent last year, to 188. The number of gang homicides had risen 27 percent, from 164 in 2003 to 224 in 2005.
Too many slayings
Sheriff Lee Baca credited the drop in gang homicides to a task force in Compton (where homicides fell from 72 to 38), better cooperation between deputies and the communities they police and additional funds from the Board of Supervisors, including $250 million in one-time funds to improve jails and $70 million to hire more deputies.
``I'm very pleased that the murders are going down, but I'm not happy with the total number of murders,'' Baca said. ``And when we look at the whole county, including the city of Los Angeles, we are still in the area of about 500 gang-related murders.
``This is unacceptable. It doesn't give me any sense of relief that we have turned the corner on gangs. We have not turned the corner on gangs.
``I believe that the county, the city of Los Angeles and the independent cities all need to hire thousands of more street cops in order to focus on the gang problem, much as we needed three years ago when the half-cent sales tax was proposed.''
With increased funding, Baca said, he hired about 1,000 deputies last year and has reduced an 1,100-deputy shortfall a few years ago to about 650 now.
Baca moved the Safe Streets Bureau to the Detective Division and two months ago moved it back to the Field Operations Division in the part of the county that has seen the largest number of gang killings in the past six years. That includes the Lennox, Century, Compton and Carson stations.
Baca said he also wants gang investigators to spend more time on the streets, work Friday and Saturday nights and spend less time behind their desks.
Martin Vranicar, chairman of the county's Inter-Agency Gang Task Force, said the Sheriff's Department is doing a ``credible job'' addressing gang violence.
``In my mind, when they have the resources to apply to the problem, they do an outstanding job. But you are always in a situation where you are robbing Peter to pay Paul.''
Staff Writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this story.
photo, 2 boxes
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, and Police Chief William Bratton present preliminary year-end crime statistics and discuss the department's accomplishments.
David Sprague/Staff Photographer
(1) Los Angeles city and county crime
Warren Huskey/Staff Artist
(2) L.A. overall crime
Source: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept.; Los Angeles Police Dept.