Officials Ready New Approach on Gangs: Checkpoints : Law enforcement: Plan to erect the roadblocks to stem violence may be first of its kind in county.
The routine is second nature to Kelly, a 28-year-old housewife who lives with her husband and four children on Ackley Street in the heart of one of Paramount’s most gang-plagued areas.
“When we hear gunfire on the streets, the kids end up on the floor rather than on the couch,” said Kelly, who would give only her first name.
Gang activity and violence has long been a fact of life in the half-mile-square neighborhood west of Downey Avenue and north of Rosecrans Avenue, and in another gang-plagued neighborhood on the western border of the city of 47,000 residents.
But the situation has taken a turn for the worse recently. Last month alone, there were 18 gang-related shootings in Paramount and three shootings in neighboring cities that involved Paramount gang members. Most of the shootings took place in or around the two neighborhoods that have the highest concentration of Paramount gang members.
“The gang situation was improving, but we’ve had some prior gang members who had been incarcerated, and they’ve been released and there’s been a rash of shootings,” said Councilman Manuel E. Guillen.
As a result of the rash of violence, officials have embarked on an unusual plan to erect roadblocks, manned by sheriff’s deputies, to combat gang activity.
The first of the “informational checkpoints” is tentatively scheduled to go up Friday on Downey Avenue, between Rosecrans Avenue and Wilbarn Street, said Robert D. Robinson, Paramount’s public safety director. The city contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services.
Numerous cities throughout the county and state have used sobriety checkpoints to combat drunk driving. But city and sheriff’s officials said they believe this is the first time in the county, and possibly the state, that checkpoints are to be used against gang crime.
About 10 deputies will be at a checkpoint passing out flyers to the motorists they stop. Deputies plan to use a numerical formula, such as stopping every car or every third car, to avoid singling out motorists unfairly, officials said. The deputies will seek information on gang activity and suggestions on how to stop it. They do not plan to search cars routinely, officials said.
A Sheriff’s Department spokesman said he does not expect the roadblocks to produce many arrests. Signs announcing the roadblocks will be posted and motorists will have a chance to take an alternative route.
In addition to gathering information, city and sheriff’s officials hope that the presence of a checkpoint manned by at least 10 deputies will be a deterrent to gang crime.
“It’s going to send out a message to gangs that gang activity is not welcome in Paramount,” said Tony Ostos, who directs a city’s program to keep youths out of gangs.
Deputies plan to set up a single roadblock once or twice a week for four to six weeks, officials said.
Most of the city’s gang crime is directed against other gang members, officials said. But that is not always the case. Last month, for example, a 28-year-old man was shot and killed in Paramount after being caught in the cross-fire between rival gang members. And a 32-year-old Paramount man was shot after he stopped a gang member from painting graffiti on his wall.
The checkpoint plan drew mostly favorable reaction from residents interviewed in the gang-troubled neighborhood near the first planned roadblock.
The neighborhood west of Downey Avenue and north of Rosecrans Avenue is a collection of modest stucco homes where residents often sit and chat on the front porch. Residents have seemingly become accustomed to gang fights and drive-by shootings. Gang members from other areas enter the neighborhood to attack resident gang members, Paramount officials and gang members said.
“Hopefully it will help,” said Delia Maldonado, who lives on Ackley Street. The 21-year-old college student doesn’t drive or walk down the street at night. She also said that the fronts of two nearby houses are like blackboards because gang members constantly mark them with graffiti and city workers doggedly paint them clean.
But Kelly, the mother of four, said she opposes the roadblocks even if area gang members do seem to be younger and more violent in recent years. She said the roadblocks will have the effect of harassing area residents while doing little to curb gang violence.
“It scares the residents more than it does the homeboys,” Kelly said. “Every time the cops go down the street, the boys scatter. In 15 minutes, they’re in a group again.”
Across town, in the gang-troubled neighborhood on Paramount’s western border, sheriff’s deputies arrested a juvenile gang member for possessing ammunition.
Three fellow gang members stood on a corner in the neighborhood of small houses along narrow one-way streets west of Orange Avenue, between Rosecrans Avenue and Somerset Boulevard. They said the roadblocks would be a minor inconvenience.
“It makes no difference to us,” said one gang member, an 18-year-old who had a tattoo of a happy face and a sad face with the words “Smile now, cry later.” “We get harassed all the time. All we’ll do is avoid it, just go around it.”
The roadblocks are the latest element of Paramount’s decade-long uphill battle against gang activity.
Paramount’s “Alternatives to Gang Membership” program, founded in 1981, was one of the first preventive anti-gang programs in the Southeast area of Los Angeles County. City counselors in the program go into Paramount schools and discuss the dangers of gangs and how to avoid them with students in the second, fifth and seventh grades. The program also offers counseling to families. In the 1980s, Paramount also expanded its youth recreation program to provide more activities, such as boxing, after school and on weekends.
The city first added a new twist to the sobriety checkpoint idea in 1989 when it asked deputies to set up roadblocks to check for motorists under the influence of drugs.
“We’ve recognized we’ve had the problem and continue to try to deal with it over and over,” Ostos said.
But the current plan, in which roadblocks are being used to gather information on criminal activity in general rather than for a specific violation, has drawn some criticism. When the plan was announced last week, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union described it as a repressive police-state tactic that may violate constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches.
But city and sheriff’s officials say they are confident that they will be operating within the law.
Paramount Gang Violence
The following is a list of gang-related shootings in Paramount and shootings involving Paramount gang members in neighboring cities last month.
* 11 p.m., July 2, Somerset Boulevard at El Camino Avenue in Paramount: Assault with a deadly weapon. Gang vs. gang.
* 6:24 p.m., July 3, 8400 block of Quimby Street in Paramount: Assault, victims gone prior to police arrival. Gang vs. gang.
* 7:55 p.m., July 3, Somerset Boulevard at El Camino Avenue in Paramount: Shooting at parked car, five shots, one hit. Gang vs. gang.
* 10:45 p.m., July 4, 8400 block of Quimby Street in Paramount: Assault with a deadly weapon. Gang vs. gang.
* 3:10 p.m., July 8, 6600 block of Orizaba Avenue in North Long Beach: Assault with a deadly weapon, victim shot in left leg. Gang vs. gang.
* 6:43 p.m., July 8, 14100 block of Orizaba Avenue in Paramount: Assault with a deadly weapon, victim shot in left thigh. Gang vs. gang.
* 7 p.m., July 9, 6500 block San Vincente Street in Paramount: Shooting at an inhabited dwelling, 11 rounds from 9-millimeter. Gang vs. gang.
* 6:03 p.m., July 10, 6600 block Indiana Avenue in North Long Beach: Assault with a deadly weapon, car shot several times, no injuries. Gang vs. gang.
* 2:15 p.m., July 10, San Mateo Street at San Antonio Drive in Paramount: Assault with a deadly weapon, no one hit. Gang vs. gang.
* 8:45 p.m., July 10, Downey Avenue at Alondra Boulevard in Paramount: Fatality, shooting between rival gangs, victim bystander.
* 12:18 a.m., July 11, 13700 block of Carfax Avenue, Bellflower: Assault with a deadly weapon, no one hit. Gang vs. gang.
* 6:10 p.m., July 14, Rosecrans Avenue at Paramount Boulevard in Paramount: Robbery, suspect: gang member. Victim: visitor at Paramount Park, shot in biceps.
* 9:45 p.m., July 16, 8300 block of Ackley Street in Paramount: Shooting firearm in negligent manner, six suspects arrested, recovered stolen sawed-off shotgun.
* 3:05 p.m., July 17, Downey Avenue at Quimby Street in Paramount: Assault with a deadly weapon. Gang vs. gang.
* 9:30 p.m., July 19, 8400 block of Wilbarn Street in Paramount: Shooting at an inhabited dwelling. Gang members arrested.
* 11:10 a.m., July 20, 14400 Paramount Boulevard in Paramount: Robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, suspect shot at and robbed two visitors at Paramount Park. Gang members arrested.
* 3:30 a.m., July 21, 8000 block of Rose Street in Paramount: Shooting firearm in negligent manner, 10 to 15 shots fired. Gang members involved.
* 7 p.m., July 28, 1500 block of Orange Avenue in Paramount: Assault with a deadly weapon, seven shots, no one hit. Gang vs. gang.
* 10 p.m., July 28, 15000 block of Indiana Avenue in Paramount: Shooting at an inhabited dwelling. Gang vs. gang.
* 8 p.m., July 29, 8300 block of Olanda Street in Paramount: Assault with a deadly weapon, two victims with superficial gunshot wounds. Gang vs. gang.
* 8:57 p.m., July 29, 7000 block of Somerset Boulevard in Paramount: Attempted murder, victim shot seven times. Gang member arrested.
Source: Sheriff’s Department