Police Try to Take Back a Drug-Infested Area

TIMES STAFF WRITER

From her Harbor City apartment, Alice can see for miles. Her view includes the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro and the twinkling lights of the Unocal Refinery in Wilmington.

Closer to home, the sights are far less appealing. Graffiti on the sidewalk. Drug dealers in the street, flagging down cars and passing out crack cocaine like candy. Gang shootings. Chlidren, some as young as 8, handcuffed and carted off in police cruisers.

But Alice doesn't want to talk about what she sees. Nor does she, like most who live near the intersection of 252nd Street and Marigold Avenue in Harbor City, want to give her last name.

"I can't tell you," she says. "I live by myself. I have to think of my life."

The Los Angeles Police Department's Harbor Division says the corner of 252nd and Marigold, and the blocks that surround it, make up the busiest--and most dangerous--drug-dealing area in the Harbor Division, and one of the busiest in the city. Since the beginning of this year, 205 narcotics arrests have been made at 252nd and Marigold alone. A recent sting operation in the neighborhood, in which police posed as drug dealers and buyers, netted 54 arrests in four hours.

"It's a cesspool," said Capt. Joseph De Ladurantey, the division's commanding officer.

So police are trying to turn the tide. For four nights recently, half a dozen officers barricaded a four-block area and stopped every car that went into the neighborhood--not to make arrests, but to give residents like Alice some peace.

"We're not here to take people to jail," said Don Linfield, the officer in charge of the operation. "We're here as a suppression effort. We're just making our presence known, to let these people (gangs and drug dealers) know they don't own the streets anymore."

The blockade was the first step in what De Ladurantey said will be a months-long effort to restore order to the community, "to take back the sidewalks and the streets and give them back" to law-abiding residents.

He acknowledges that it will not be an easy task. The dealers have a tight hold on the Marigold Avenue neighborhood--so tight, police say, that dealers have ordered residents to lock their dogs indoors at night so they can skip through the back yards and alleys to avoid getting caught. And the fearful residents have complied.

According to police, people come from all over--as far as the San Fernando Valley and sometimes Orange County--to buy drugs in this neighborhood. Perhaps that's because of its accessible location, just off the Harbor Freeway near Lomita Boulevard and Normandie Avenue.

The neighborhood blockade was similar to a recent crackdown in the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles, although tiny in comparison. In Pico-Union, up to 160 officers barricaded a square-mile area. They posted 20 sawhorse barriers with large signs reading "Narcotics Enforcement Zone, Residents Only" in intersections leading into the district. Some neighbors report that drug dealing has declined in their area but has picked up in outlying blocks.

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