Surge in Gang Crime Caused by Narcotics, Police Assert

Times Staff Writer

There has been a 20.2% upsurge in the first half of the year in major youth gang violence in Los Angeles, most of it related to narcotics street sales and the territorial struggles that go along with them, police officials said Wednesday.

The worst increase of all, according to officers, is in an area bounded by Adams and Jefferson, La Cienega and La Brea boulevards in the Police Department's Wilshire Division, where departmental statistics show a 193% increase in gang-related violence over the same period in 1985.

Police say this comparatively small area has become a center of rising narcotics sales on the near-Westside, catering to buyers who come from throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Officers said some 16- to 18-year-old gang members are earning from $100 to $300 a day peddling cocaine and marijuana.

264 Incidents

The statistics show that in the Wilshire Division, there were 264 violent gang incidents reported from Jan. 1 through June 30, compared to 90 incidents in the same period last year. These included 6 murders, 9 attempted murders, 79 felonious assaults, 3 batteries on police officers, 163 robberies, 3 shootings of inhabitants of dwellings and 1 kidnaping.

Citywide, in gang-related crimes, there have been 89 murders so far this year, compared to 68 in 1985, 131 attempted murders compared to 121 the year before, 986 felonious assaults compared to 757, 27 batteries on police officers compared to 37, 1,005 robberies compared to 902, 46 shootings of inhabitants of dwellings compared to the same number a year ago, 22 kidnapings compared to 15, 60 rapes compared to 25 and 5 cases of arson compared to 2.

Assistant Police Chief Robert Vernon said Wednesday that it is narcotics--and particularly rock cocaine, a potent form of the drug--that is changing the picture the most when it comes to gang activity.

"Now, they really have something to fight over," Vernon said. "Before, it was just territory and girls. Now, it's mucho bucks."

Vernon said the LAPD is fighting back with a series of special task forces that have succeeded in curbing gang activity and narcotics sales to some extent in Highland Park and South Los Angeles and have recently begun work in the area south of Wilshire Boulevard.

Problem for Police

But he and the commanding officer in the Wilshire Division, Capt. Ernest Kurtsinger, said the huge supply of narcotics, particularly cocaine, and the high profits associated with its sale are proving to be a terrific problem for police.

Kurtsinger said a 30-man task force has arrested upwards of 260 persons in eight weeks of sweeps in the Wilshire Division, including about 190 sellers and small numbers of buyers and involved bystanders.

But, the captain added, "They make all these arrests, and the next day the same corner has new faces."

Vernon remarked, "I tell our men, 'You will find youngsters with pink slips to Cadillacs in their pockets.' They didn't believe me at first, but now they've seen for themselves. Why, they found one 14-year-old not long ago with $800 in cash in his pocket."

No matter how much cocaine is seized, it does not seem to make a dent in the available supply, the two officers said.

"The best guesstimate is that we're getting only 3 to 5% of it," Kurtsinger said.

Seizures' Effects Doubted

And Vernon said that after recent unprecedented seizures totaling approximately two tons of cocaine in the Los Angeles-Orange County metropolitan area, a police survey had indicated no change in the price being asked on the street. This proves to him, he said, that even such large seizures are having little overall effect on the amount of the drug available for sale.

Vernon said that while most gangs were in Latino areas of the Eastside 30 years ago, now the gang base has spread out geographically and into all other major ethnic groups. But the huge upsurge in the Wilshire Division mainly involves black youths.

A brief tour of the most seriously afflicted area Wednesday, conducted by Jim Ross, a senior lead police officer in the Adams District, showed a rather prosaic-appearing residential area of small stucco homes and apartments.

But a closer look showed many walls with heavy graffiti, a frequent sign of gang activity. As Ross' police car slowly made its way through the streets, the officer pointed out a number of "rock houses," where arrests had recently been made for alleged cocaine sales. On several corners, such as Hauser Boulevard and Smiley Drive, clumps of youths were standing. Ross expressed the view that they were peddlers.

Closed by Health Authorities

The officer stopped at one alleged rock house at the intersection of Roseland Street and Mansfield Avenue, which, he said, had recently been ordered closed by the health authorities. Upon entering, a terrible odor emanated from huge piles of dirty clothes in the house, the floor of a large part of which was missing. On a table top, there was the residue of what the officer said was free-based cocaine, still warm. Two occupants stated that they were merely there to pick up their belongings.

The police released the following comparisons of incidents of gang-related crime elsewhere in the city:

Jan. 1- Jan. 1- June 30 June 30 Division 1985 1986 Harbor 171 257 77th Street 407 318 Southeast 210 277 Southwest 146 137 Devonshire 4 7 Foothill 72 80 No. Hollywood 46 33 Van Nuys 42 52 West Valley 15 43 Hollywood 54 84 Pacific 50 87 West L.A. 22 59 Hollenbeck 94 119 Central 103 73 Rampart 131 122 Northeast 73 79 Newton 51 55

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