Indochinese Gangs to Be Topic for Police : Workshop Participants Will Share Expertise on Asian Crime

Times Staff Writer

When a Vietnamese youth gang needs some help to commit a crime, it doesn’t hesitate to seek the assistance of another Vietnamese gang--something unlikely to occur with black or Latino gangs.

The lack of territoriality is one of the differences which marks the Vietnamese gangs and will be discussed by police agencies meeting today and Wednesday during a special workshop.

During the two-day meeting in Westminster, law enforcement agencies predominantly from Orange County will discuss crime problems within the Indochinese community.


Some of those problems, such as loan-sharking and extortion, are associated with organized crime within the Vietnamese community, Westminster Police Sgt. Bob Burnett said.

No Definite Territories

Other crime problems are associated with what are commonly called gangs. In the Indochinese community, however, gangs is a misnomer, Burnett said.

“When you think of gangs, you think of things (associated) with Hispanic or blacks, where they identify with groups,” Burnett said. In the case of the Vietnamese, Cambodian or other Indochinese groups, there are no walls marked to define territories, no jackets bearing gang names or slogans.

Indochinese gangs, Burnett said, “are predatory--like packs of wolves. They go where there is opportunity. It’s a loosely knit association. They share people from one group to another. There isn’t . . . jealousy of territory,” Burnett said.

About the only thing that can identify the groups is their consistency in appearance. Pointy, highly stylized hairdos and punk rock or new wave clothing are characteristic of Vietnamese youth gangs, Burnett said.

Meeting to Be Closed

Crime in the Vietnamese community is nothing new, Burnett said. “But the media has (just) seemed to discover it,” Burnett said, adding that the two-day meeting will be closed to the public and the press and no announcements will be made after it.

About 35 to 40 people are expected to participate in the workshop coordinated by the Westminster Police Department and the Orange County district attorney’s office. Some of the participants will be arriving from San Jose and possibly other Santa Clara County cities to share experiences and expertise in “everything from the policeman on the street to district attorneys and their prosecutions to probation and parole,” Burnett said. An annual international conference on Asian crime is slated for November in Los Angeles.

Burnett could not cite the overall percentage of Westminster crimes attributable to or involving Vietnamese. During one month last year, he said, 20% of the city’s crimes had either Vietnamese suspects or Vietnamese victims, he said. During that same month, between 40% and 46% of the calls for police service--"anything from a disturbance to actual criminal records"--related to Vietnamese citizens, he said.