The children of Lanark Street are afraid.
Afraid to run barefoot through Lanark Park because they might step on drug needles discarded in the grass. Afraid that dealers will ask them to stand sentry and look for police. Afraid that talking to a stranger could be viewed as snitching and bring retribution.
Police said that Lanark Street is the largest drug market in the West San Fernando Valley. Since 1988, more than 500 people have been arrested on the street and in Lanark Park--commonly known as Narc’s Park--on drug-related charges. Quick, drive-by drug deals are everyday occurrences, police said.
On Thursday, city officials announced a neighborhood improvement plan that they hope will allow the children who live in the low-income apartments that flank the 21700 to 21900 blocks of Lanark Street to feel as safe as those raised in the million-dollar estates a few streets away in West Hills.
More than 14 city and county agencies--including the Los Angeles Police Department, the Board of Public Works, the Rent Stabilization Board and the County Department of Health Services--will participate in the effort to eliminate drug traffic from the besieged neighborhood.
The goal is to restore community pride and build confidence in city government so that residents are willing to cooperate with authorities in the battle against drug trafficking.
On March 20, police and city officials will meet with community residents and ask them to serve as the “eyes and ears of law enforcement,” said Los Angeles Police Officer George Aguilar, who patrols the area.
Residents will be asked to write down the license plate numbers of passing cars that they suspect are involved in drug transactions and send the information anonymously to police. The police will then send letters to car owners, stating that the vehicle was spotted in a neighborhood known for drug dealing.
Police said they believe the letters will deter drug buyers from driving to Lanark Street.
Aguilar said that most of the Lanark Street drug transactions involve small-time dealers, who sell to support their own rock cocaine habits, and casual drug users from outside the neighborhood.
In a recent reverse sting--targeting drug buyers rather than dealers--police arrested 25 people in several hours. All but two of those arrested were from affluent communities including Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Encino and Agoura Hills, police said at a press conference Thursday to announce the program.
As part of the revitalization effort, city agencies plan to work closely with property owners to revitalize apartment buildings, which are run-down and marked by graffiti. On Thursday, officials informed property owners and managers that they would be expected to bring their buildings into compliance with city building codes or face prosecution.
City Councilwoman Joy Picus, who represents the area, said the decay is “an invitation to criminals to ‘come on down here, nobody here cares.’ ” Improving the buildings, she said, will increase residents’ pride in their area and perhaps give them the courage to take a stand against the drug dealers.
Picus said that a similar effort was successful in the Oakwood neighborhood of Venice, and she said she has high hopes that it will prove as effective in Lanark Park.
But the problems of Lanark Street are deeply rooted and officials and residents alike concede that improvements will take time.
Most residents, many of whom are Latino immigrants, despair of ever stemming the tide of crime in the neighborhood, Aguilar said. And they fear calling the police.
Jose Munoz, a tool factory worker and father of three young children, said he welcomed the effort to rid the street of drug dealers, but said it will not be easy. He believes, however, that many residents in his building will cooperate with police.
On a recent weekday afternoon, a group of six boys at the park discussed life in their neighborhood. Although they are only 10 and 11 years old, the boys know the dealers’ tricks.
The boys said they commonly see drugs passed in a quick handshake. They watch as dealers hide chunks of rock cocaine in their mouths, to make it look like chewing gum. They have seen drug users shield a friend’s arm with their body so that a needle can be covertly injected. As the boys pour out their tales, a tough-looking teen-ager on a bicycle approaches. The children become visibly fearful. They leave the park in a hurry, looking backward as they flee.