Little Leaguer Knifed by Gang Members : Lawndale Calls for More Deputies
In response to a marked increase in graffiti and gang activity in Lawndale, the City Council has voted to ask the Sheriff’s Department to consider diverting some deputies from traffic enforcement to crime control duties.
Citing the knifing of a 13-year-old boy who was jumped by gang members on his way to Little League practice last week, Councilman Larry Rudolph called for immediate council action Monday night, placing his sheriff’s staffing plan on the agenda as an urgency item.
The boy is recovering from his injuries, but public concern about gangs is running high in Lawndale, with four meetings in the past week focusing on the problem.
Rudolph suggested that to combat gangs, two traffic enforcement teams be reassigned to crime patrol in local parks and residential neighborhoods. He also proposed designating a third team as an anti-gang unit. These changes could be made with minimal costs, he said.
The council voted unanimously to seek a Sheriff’s Department analysis of the plan, which also calls for non-uniformed city or county personnel to take accident reports to free officers to handle crimes.
In casting her vote, Mayor Sarann Kruse said the council should move quickly to keep gangs out of Lawndale.
Sheriff’s Capt. Walt Lanier agrees. “Without question, gang activity has increased (in Lawndale),” Lanier said Tuesday in an interview. “This is not like the hard-core gang activity going on in the northern (Lennox) part of the district, but nevertheless they are using the same names and trappings.”
Incidents of graffiti nearly doubled in March over February, according to records, and Lanier said such public wall writings are “a telltale sign” of increased activity.
He applauded this week’s anti-gang events including a “Say No to Gangs” march Saturday, City Council discussions Monday and today and a Neighborhood Watch meeting Tuesday. Without swift intervention, he said, gangs can become a deadly cancer that cannot be eradicated.
On Saturday, about 125 residents marched a mile through Lawndale to demonstrate community determination to keep rival gangs from making a battleground out of Lawndale. Neighborhood Watch coordinator Nancy McKee said that in staging the march, residents “are saying they don’t want that kind of element in our city.”
At Monday’s council meeting, Planning Commissioner Pam Sturgeon said the recent attack on the Little League player has made parents fearful for their children’s safety. “Why should we have to lock our children up in our homes to keep them safe?” she asked.
And on Tuesday night, about 60 Neighborhood Watch coordinators and residents, many of them elderly, gathered at City Hall for a program on gangs. At the meeting, Sheriff’s Deputy Warren Asmus described gang members as “our own local terrorists.”
Asmus, a member of the Sheriff’s Department team that presents anti-drug and gang-resistance programs in schools, said that while gang activity in Lawndale may not be as intense as in Lennox or South-Central Los Angeles, the community should band together now to keep it from becoming entrenched.
No Place Immune
In answer to worried queries about where gang activity is worst, Asmus said no neighborhood is immune from gangs. Drug profits have enabled gang members to buy cars and range widely throughout Southern California and beyond, he said.
The Sheriff’s Department has received numerous requests from law enforcement agencies nationwide because local gangs have exported their drug activities to new territories, he said.
Residents watched intently as Asmus showed slides and interpreted the meanings of graffiti showing the presence of rival Crips and Bloods. Among the most active in Lawndale is the Hawthorne Piru Gangsters, whose members wear red to show their affiliation with the Bloods, Asmus said.
He urged residents to join together to form a neighborhood presence to detect and report gang activity. A key problem for law enforcement is that people are reluctant to report crimes by gangs for fear of retaliation, he said.
Asmus said gang members retaliated against witnesses in only about 1% of the cases he has handled.
At tonight’s City Council meeting, Gary McDonald, chairman of the Lawndale Planning Commission, plans to propose that the city seek damages from the parents of those who write graffiti on walls.
The council on Monday took some immediate steps to deal with the dramatic increase in graffiti noted in recent months.
Calls for the city’s graffiti removal service have increased considerably, the staff reported: In February, there were 204 calls for 7,082 square feet of work, while in March, there were 369 calls for 11,162 square feet of work.
The council directed that one employee who has been spending 60% of his time on graffiti removal be assigned to work full-time at it.
The council also approved a plan to distribute coupons that entitle residents to small amounts of free paint for covering graffiti.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.