Gang-related murders in Los Angeles County totaled 69 in January and February, ahead of the record pace of last year, when 353 people were killed by gang violence, authorities said Thursday.
The two-month figure--seven more deaths than in the same period last year--would project to 414 gang slayings over the course of the year, an increase of 61 over last year and 130 more than authorities recorded in 1987.
In the city of Los Angeles, where police sweeps of gang-infested areas became commonplace in 1988, the Police Department logged 49 gang-related killings in January and February. In the same two months last year, the Police Department recorded 40 gang-related slayings on the way toward a record for the city of 257.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported 20 gang-related murders in the same January-February period, two fewer than in the same period last year, which ended with an all-time high of 96 slayings.
Authorities downplayed the figures, however, saying it is too early to make reasonable projections for the whole year.
“All you have to do is have a good month next month, and it swings the other way,” said Los Angeles Police Lt. Fred Nixon, who predicted that relatively new police approaches to the gang problem will help “turn around” those numbers in coming months. “I think it’s a little early to talk about trends.”
‘Will Slow Up’
Sgt. Wes McBride of the sheriff’s gang detail pointed out that the county is doing slightly better than last year. Even so, the 20 gang-related slayings for January and February would project to 120 for the year, easily breaking last year’s mark.
“Last year was a record, (but) I don’t think we’re going to have record years back to back,” McBride said. “We seem to have a lot of murders in January and February--I don’t know why. And it will slow up in the summer time. I think a lot of it has to do with the schools.”
Although few gang-related killings occur at school, many seem to happen near campuses or as children walk to and from school, he said.
“I do not think things are worsening,” the sergeant added. “But I do not see them getting drastically better either. We still have an atrocious number of people being killed.”
In South-Central Los Angeles, a focal point of police battles against gangs, the Police Department is beginning to take a “more-targeted” approach to the problem, de-emphasizing the massive deployment of officers in weekend “gang sweeps” that were popular last year, Nixon said.
“You will still see very large-scale deployment occasionally, when it seems necessary,” he said. “But you will probably see a greater emphasis on specific targeting of gangs and individuals. We began heading in that direction very late in 1988.”
The new approach, in which officers are concentrating on particularly troublesome gangs, gang leaders and drug traffickers, was evident this year in the arrest of 33 drug-trafficking suspects in a joint operation between the department and the FBI, Nixon said.
The Police Department, which began working with the FBI six months ago on the gang problem, is also making extensive use of both undercover agents and “highly visible” uniformed officers to attempt to discourage gang-related crime, Nixon said.
In addition to a rise in gang-related homicides, police in Los Angeles have seen a continuing high incidence of gang-related attempted murders and robberies. Attempted murders totaled 111 in January and February and robberies numbered 344.
Neighborhood groups active in the anti-gang fight said they were not surprised by the apparent rise in gang violence.
“We figured it probably would get worse before it got better,” said Gwen CorDova, crime control chairwoman for the South-Central Organizing Committee.
She said the problem was not the lack of effort by law enforcement but rather the pervasiveness of gangs and the escalating drug trade.
“These kids see no future,” she said. “The problem is just too much. It’s just so overwhelming. It seems nobody can get a handle on what’s going on.”
V.G. Guinses, executive director of the South-Central-based Sey Yes (Save Every Youngster) program, said some community activists tried to warn the city years ago that the gang problem was getting out of hand.
“L.A. was 15 years too late to say, ‘We’ve got a gang problem; we’ve got a drug problem,’ ” Guinses said.
But he blamed the community at large for allowing the problem to fester, noting that 40% or more of the gang-related murders involve innocent victims.
“When there’s a 2-year-old kid killed in the streets or a mother killed in the street, the one who’s pulling the trigger is us,” he said.