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How to Blow the Whistle on Gangs : Sheriff holds an unusual conference to pool ideas and efforts

Almost everyone knows that law enforcement alone won’t cripple street gangs. But law enforcement officials are often the last ones to admit it. Not Sherman Block.

The thoughtful Los Angeles sheriff recently sponsored a major conference to foster a partnership between local leaders and deputies to support social programs that will help to prevent more gang violence.

The problem keeps getting worse. As many as an estimated 100,000 teen-agers and adults belong to 800 gangs. In 1985, the estimates were 45,000 gang members and 400 gangs. In 1990 gang-related homicides claimed 650 lives countywide.

Gangs, once thought to be strictly an inner-city menace, are making inroads into other communities. What drives youngsters to join gangs? What deters them? What, if anything, can prevent the young recruits, the “wanna-bes,” from becoming hard-core killers?

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The conference participants discussed how to educate parents, cut off recruitment, take back parks and schools and rescue all but the 10% who are hard-core gang-bangers. There are programs that do make a difference. There are courageous neighborhood efforts that slow the carnage. But there is little money for new initiatives at a time when government budgets, social-welfare budgets, school budgets and even philanthropic budgets can’t meet competing needs.

The gang crisis requires greater attention from the Board of Supervisors. Its discretion is quite limited by state mandates and hard financial times, but it does decide in many cases what gets cut and what gets funded. It must create a greater balance between social efforts and more jails.

Street gangs respect no boundaries. The Los Angeles Police Department and city leaders should be invited to future conferences. Jurisdictional battles should be put aside in the interest of developing a regional partnership to save children, and our communities.


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