Residents of Manhattan Beach, an affluent bedroom community with a low crime rate, have traditionally worried more about condominium development and lack of parking than street gangs.
But that was before nine reputed gang members crashed a party in the city Nov. 6 and three people had to be hospitalized after the ensuing fight.
After that, said Neighborhood Watch Director Charlotte Lesser, “the feeling was, ‘Gosh, we’re not immune.’ ”
Even though such incidents have been extremely rare in the city, concern about gangs boosted attendance this week at the annual meeting of the city’s Neighborhood Watch block captains, where gangs were the topic.
Hawthorne Police Detective David Mains, who heads that department’s gang unit, told the 100 people attending that police crackdowns in South-Central Los Angeles have put pressure on gang members to hide out elsewhere.
“When the police come in to regain control, so to speak, a lot of these gang members go underground,” Mains said. “They stay out of the limelight and they go to various places, including the beach, where they can . . . not have to look over their shoulder for police.”
Manhattan Beach resident Marilyn Owen, a former Los Angeles police officer, said she attended the meeting to learn how to identify gang members.
“We have noticed an influx of strange-looking young men and women in the last summer,” she said.
Mains, who said many people in the beach cities do not even know what a gang member looks like, brought photographs, slides, and clothing taken from gang members. A Kansas City baseball cap, for example, might stand for a gang called the Kitchen Crips, he said.
“There are a lot of misconceptions, from watching TV and from things people hear, like thinking gang members all dress alike,” Mains said. “By educating the public . . . hopefully they will be more apt to call police if they suspect someone.”
In Search of Relaxation
Lesser is concerned about the potential for violence if rival gangs meet. “We want to head it off before it becomes a problem,” she said.
Mike Mamane, 19, said he came to the meeting after he was approached by members of a gang in a nearby city.
“I’m not a very violent guy. I don’t think I could hang with them. I like my face in one piece,” he said.
In the Nov. 6 incident, nine youths, reputedly gang members from Hawthorne, crashed a Manhattan Beach party. Three people were hospitalized, including one man who was stabbed, after a fight that began when the outsiders were asked to leave, police said.
There have been only three other incidents, all minor, involving gang members in Manhattan Beach since the beginning of summer, said Andy Harrod, a police community relations officer. Two were street robberies, and in the third, a gang member stabbed another gang member at the municipal pier.
Police Chief Ted Mertens said Manhattan Beach does not have a gang problem, “but we can’t live with our heads in the sand.”
Mains said the best way to tell gang members they are not wanted is to set up a gang unit. “I think that what a lot of cities can do is be pro-active and not reactive, and form a unit that deals specifically with street gangs,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something that’s going to go away.”
Harrod said the city does not consider the problem severe enough at this point for a special unit.