Most police officers are not particularly worked up over the new white street gangs.
"They're just a nuisance, like dust in your eye," said one North Hollywood gang unit officer who has investigated six murders this year connected to the gangs that truly concern police--Latino and black gangs.
Contrasting with that, however, is the view of Detective Paul Bishop, who believes white gangs are responsible for major thefts.
Bishop, who works for the Los Angeles Police Department in the West Valley, has drawn much media attention, having been interviewed on several television news programs and quoted in the Daily News and by the Associated Press.
Preying on Neighborhoods
His message: that white gangs--and less organized bands of white youths, which he calls rat packs--are preying on their own neighborhoods.
As "crime waves" go, this one has quite a bit of media appeal. It's such an alluring story that Bishop is writing a screenplay about the subject and is trying to sell the idea to television, capitalizing on his experiences as have other cops-turned-authors.
But is his story mostly fact or fiction? No one can say for sure.
Bishop concedes that his story is based on his personal insights as a West Valley detective, first on the juvenile beat and now as an auto theft investigator.
On one TV program, Bishop was seen pointing down Ventura Boulevard, which was crowded with luxury cars.
"They'll steal a yellow Mercedes Benz to order," he said. "They'll deliver a Porsche to a chop shop," a place where cars are dismantled to be sold for parts.
He said the youths spend their profits on luxuries, such as memberships in health clubs, fancy clothes and dinners at fine restaurants.
"The rat packs are into high-class crime . . . ripping off their own in the upper class."
But when pressed for details to support his view, Bishop had little to offer.
He mentioned the case of a youth recently picked up as a runaway. He said the youth's parents immediately arrived at the police station with a private detective. On his way to a private detention camp in Utah, Bishop said, the boy left the station shouting at his parents, "The FFF will kill you before I land," referring to Fight For Freedom, a Valley white gang.
Bishop also told about a knife fight at a favorite teen hangout near a Ventura Boulevard theater.
Although there was no police report on that incident, the owner of the store confirmed that there was a stabbing on the site and that the victim said it was gang-related. The store owner also said that the shopping center near the theater is a regular hangout for bands of violent teen-agers.
Violent Youth Gangs
The examples support the existence of rebellious and sometimes violent white youth gangs. But they do not tie these groups to large-scale theft and robbery, as Bishop does.
The problem that Bishop sees is not as evident to other police officers.
Although they deferred to Bishop as the resident expert on juvenile gangs, other officers at the West Valley station said they personally do not know much about the gangs, and they had varying views on Bishop's description of the problem.
"As far as any gang violence, we don't have much problem with it," said Officer Bill Windham. "Bishop came up with that stuff and it's a complete surprise to me. Every once in a while, we have a wild party that these types of kids go to. But that's it."
Little Direct Knowledge
Sandy Hendricks, a detective on the juvenile beat, said she is sure the gangs exist, but she has little direct knowledge.
"Occasionally, we'll get a crime report and we'll say, 'Victim suspects . . . members of FFF or Mickey Mouse Club,' " Hendricks said. "It's just kind of floating around there. We have a real good idea that they're very active, but not enough to really pin them down."
One thing is clear, however, officers say. Although no statistics are available yet, they said, based on their experiences, there has been an increase in violent behavior by teen-agers in the middle- to upper-middle-class areas of the West Valley in the last year or so.
Crime Against Parents
"I'm seeing more crime against the parents than I ever have before," Hendricks said. "I have a lot of kids beating up their mothers and attempting to beat up their dads, stealing money and jewelry and trying to pawn it for drugs. It's quite commonplace and quite distressing. At least four kids a month are arrested for knocking their parents around," she said.
Juvenile crime against property is also rising. Hendricks gave several examples of youths from well-to-do homes either stealing from neighbors or helping others steal from their own parents.
Others in the juvenile justice system who are familiar with white gangs doubt that any connection exists between them and organized auto theft rings.
Tom Le Valley, a Van Nuys probation officer, has supervised dozens of white gang members caught for violent crimes. "As far as holding up banks and being into sophisticated crime, they're not into that," Le Valley said.
"They're out to have a good time, getting loaded, not respecting any authority of any kind. If they rob at all, they do it to get drugs."