Prompted by worsening gang violence, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to provide $1.5 million in emergency funds to beef up the Sheriff's Department's anti-gang programs and to place more deputies on patrol.
The board, voting 4 to 0 for additional law enforcement money, agreed to add 30 sheriff's deputies to the department's "Operation Safe Streets" unit and another 45 deputies countywide "to increase the surveillance and suppression of gang activities."
The supervisors also voted to take several other steps in the war against gangs. They ordered a county study to see if even more money should be allocated for more personnel; they agreed to consider programs to discourage young people from joining gangs; the board voted to back state legislation to outlaw such weapons as semiautomatic assault rifles and military-style weapons favored by gang gunmen.
"We are in a state of war," said Supervisor Mike Antonovich, as board members pushed their own ideas on what to do about the gang violence that has racked the county. The suggestions included use of the National Guard, toughening criminal penalties and urging the federal government to "declare war" on countries that support the international narcotics trade that feeds gangs.
In pressing for the additional deputies, Sheriff Sherman Block told supervisors that the combination of well-armed gangs and their pitched battles over the drug trade have made "the hangman's rope ever tightening around our collective throats."
387 Killed Last Year
According to the sheriff, 387 people were killed in the county as a result of gang-related violence last year. At the current rate, the toll is headed for record numbers this year of 450 or more, officials say.
Under the county plan, the 30 additional positions in the "Operation Safe Streets" program will be used to go after the most violent gangs and to expand a mobile tactical team that can respond anywhere in the county.
At present, there are 32 deputies and sergeants in the Safe Streets program, and the cost of adding the 30 more officers will total $600,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year through June 30, and $2.5 million next year.
The other 45 positions in the buildup will be used to deploy deputies throughout the county for such law enforcement activities as gang suppression, narcotics, and gang-related search warrants. "These deputies . . . would give us a higher level of uniform presence in those communities where gang violence is of epidemic proportions," said Undersheriff Robert Edmonds.
The additional 45 deputy slots will cost $900,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year and $3.6 million annually thereafter.
Out of the 6,592 sworn officers, about 2,950 are uniformed deputies assigned to patrols, according to the Sheriff's Department.
Chief Administrative Officer Richard Dixon said the money necessary for added deputies is available in the present budget. He added that he will recommend approval of further funding next fiscal year.
Although the board had approved the new positions, Block said that the money will probably be used to pay overtime costs for deputies who will be shifted onto the anti-gang details.
In addition to the funds to handle what they called "an immediate crisis" in the anti-gang effort, the supervisors also agreed to consider expanding other anti-gang programs such as maximum penalty prosecutions by the district attorney's office and to create a juvenile narcotics testing program for youths who are under court order.
The package was authored by Supervisor Ed Edelman, who called the battle against gangs a "critical" struggle for the county. Supervisor Deane Dana cast the lone dissenting vote after complaining that the proposal was "too chaotic" and needed more review before approval.