Homicides related to street gangs set a record in Los Angeles in 1987, claiming the lives of 205 people, police reported Thursday.
In 1986, 187 Los Angeles residents were killed in gang-related violence. The worst previous year for gang-related murders was 1980, when 192 people were slain, according to the police.
A sharp increase in gang-related deaths was also reported in areas under the jurisdiction of the county Sheriff’s Department. Officials attributed 79 deaths to gang violence last year, compared to 59 in 1986. The highest number in county territory was 92 in 1979.
Police officials and youth gang experts blamed the rise, which had its heaviest impact in South-Central Los Angeles, on heightened narcotics trade and increased use of powerful semiautomatic weapons, particularly among members of black street gangs.
“Narcotics has a lot to do with it,” said Lt. Willie Pannell, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums bureau based in South-Central. “And narcotics finances the purchase of high-powered weapons.”
Gang workers also said that violence was on the rise because of continuing cutbacks in job training and recreation programs for troubled youths. “The resources have just dried up out there,” said Charles Norman, regional director for the Community Youth Gang Services program in South-Central.
Although Pannell declined to specifically say what the LAPD plans to do to curb the escalating violence, he indicated that police planned more coordinated anti-gang activities with state and federal law enforcement agencies. Chief Daryl F. Gates and Mayor Tom Bradley have scheduled a news conference for next Tuesday to outline new efforts to deal with gang activity.
Both city and county police officials speculated that one reason for the jump in homicides was that gang members who once had to contend with inexpensive, crudely made guns and their own poor marksmanship are now able to indiscriminately spray victims with gunfire.
“We had one case where a guy was hit by three different suspects, each using a semiautomatic,” Pannell said. “He had no chance of survival at all.”
Last year, Sheriff’s Department deputies recovered double the number of guns they seized the previous year, said Lt. Michael Sparks, of the department’s Operation Safe Streets office. And LAPD surveillance teams in South Los Angeles saw a marked increase in Uzi and AK-47 semiautomatic weapons.
Los Angeles police have reported that more than half of the victims of gang-related homicides are innocent bystanders, robbery victims or others who do not belong to gangs. The remaining murder victims, police say, are primarily teen-age gang-members killed in drive-by shootings stemming from narcotics activity or turf wars.
Often, drug-related murders occurred as a matter of business, Pannell said. “To a Boesky or an Icahn, that means buying out,” he said, referring to two well-known financial deal makers. “In South L.A., that means rubbing somebody out.”
Norman and police officials agree that law enforcement efforts alone are inadequate in halting gang-related murders. Norman said that only a renewed program of jobs and community-based recreation activities could persuade a majority of gang members to reform.
“You can’t just suppress people who don’t have any hope,” Norman said. “I welcome new law enforcement but there have to be alternatives.”