Los Angeles police announced Monday that they will more than triple the number of officers assigned to Westwood Village on weekend nights after gunshots fired by gang members at a rival gang killed a Long Beach woman there Saturday night.
Capt. Maurice Moore of the LAPD’s West Los Angeles Division said the number of officers patroling Westwood on weekend evenings will be increased from six to 20. The tightened security will remain in effect for an indefinite period, he added.
Currently, there are two officers on foot patrol and four officers in patrol cars assigned to Westwood Village.
Moore said details are yet to be worked out, but he said the additional officers will probably come from other divisions, such as Metro and the CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) unit.
Lt. Gabe Ornelas, commanding officer of the LAPD’s West Bureau CRASH unit, said at a press conference that detectives have “a lot of leads” but have not made any arrests in the slaying. “Every moment, we’re getting more information,” he said.
Karen Toshima, 27, died Sunday morning at UCLA Medical Center after she was shot in the head at 10:45 p.m. Saturday while walking with a friend along a crowded sidewalk. Police said several shots were fired by members of a gang at a rival gang that was congregating on Broxton Avenue near Weyburn Avenue.
No one else was injured in the shooting, police said.
The victim’s brother, Kevin Toshima, said his sister and her friend “were there to have a good time, look in the stores, grab a Coke and just look around.”
He said his sister was a graphic artist for a Studio City advertising agency. She had majored in art at Long Beach State, and dreamed of one day being the art director of an ad agency, he added.
“She was very happy in her life right now,” he said. “Everything was just beginning for her.
“I couldn’t believe it happened in Westwood. She didn’t go there too often, but she did enjoy going there every once in a while. She liked the atmosphere, the shops, the movies and the whole idea of people being there to have a good night out.”
Ornelas said investigators have determined that two black gangs were involved in the shooting, but he refused to name the gangs or say what part of town they were from.
The shooting stunned merchants and community leaders in Westwood. Many store owners said they feared that news of the incident would hurt business by painting Westwood as a haven for gangs.
Members of the Westwood Village Merchants Assn., which represents 115 businesses, met Monday to discuss how to prevent another such occurrence, and the Los Angeles West Chamber of Commerce will meet this morning with community leaders, police and a representative from Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky’s office to call for a greater police presence in the area.
At Monday’s press conference, held only yards from the spot where Toshima was shot, community leaders stressed that the incident was isolated and does not reflect a growing gang problem in Westwood.
“I think this needs to be put into perspective and context,” said Yaroslavsky, who represents the area. “This is an exceedingly crowded but safe place. . . . The area is very, very safe.”
However, some merchants along Broxton Avenue painted a different picture.
The manager of one store, who asked that his name not be used, said loitering gang members have cut into his business by intimidating prospective customers. He said fights occur every weekend outside the store.
“If there were a bunch of derelicts out in the street, I’d want to walk past them,” he said. “If there’s a gang standing in front of the store, customers aren’t going to come in.”
A similar view was expressed by a waitress at Stratton’s Grill on Broxton Avenue. It was on the sidewalk in front of Stratton’s that Toshima was shot.
“When I used to get off work at midnight I’d walk home the four blocks by myself. I was never frightened,” said Christy Buckingham, 21. “Now I don’t even feel comfortable walking around the main streets.”
Ornelas acknowledged that gang presence in Westwood has increased in the last two years, and said police have had to break up minor scuffles between feuding gang members.
Most recently, about 1,500 people, some of them gang members, became involved in a fracas at the Mann Village Theater during the opening of Eddie Murphy’s concert movie, “Raw,” in December. One man was arrested in the incident and several others were charged with unlawful assembly and released on their own recognizance, police said.
Ornelas said increased gang activity in Westwood reflects a surge in gang violence throughout Los Angeles County. “There’s a battle on the streets of Los Angeles, not only in Westwood,” he said. “They’re bringing their problems to Westwood Village.”