More than 100 law enforcement officers staged simultaneous early morning raids Wednesday at 15 homes of suspected gang members in the seaside community of Redondo Beach, many of the houses in middle-class neighborhoods whose residents had thought they were immune from gang problems.
The gang sweep, described by Redondo Beach police as the biggest ever in the South Bay area, resulted in 11 arrests and the seizure of 29 firearms. It was prompted by gang warfare that has left three people dead and at least 10 injured.
“I can’t believe it,” Redondo Beach resident Don Robinson said as heavily armed officers in black combat uniforms and bulletproof vests searched a house across from his own on Speyer Lane, confiscating 21 pistols, rifles and shotguns, many of them loaded. “This is suburbia. This is ‘Leave It to Beaver’ territory. It’s alarming to me that it would come this close.”
“I’m really surprised,” echoed Judy Blais, who lives on Steinhart Avenue, a clean, peaceful residential street with Volvo station wagons in the driveways and no graffiti in sight. “We don’t see any gang members on this street.”
Moments later police emerged from the new two-story home across the street with several weapons and a 21-year-old man who had been arrested for possessing a .22 caliber handgun while on parole for previous felony drug and weapons convictions.
Police said Redondo Beach’s relative affluence--its $26,000 per capita income is four times higher than that of some inner-city communities in Los Angeles--is no barrier to gang-related problems.
“It shouldn’t be surprising,” Redondo Beach Detective Phil Keenan said. “Gang membership isn’t an economic problem, it’s a social problem. You’ll find gang members in all communities. . . . This city’s been going through denial for a long time.”
The crackdown was led by the Redondo Beach Police Department with assistance from Hawthorne, Torrance, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach police, as well as county probation officers and members of a multi-agency task force called L.A. Impact. It came after six weeks of planning, police said. Search warrants had been obtained for all the residences.
The primary targets were members of a North Redondo Beach gang that has been involved in increasingly violent conflicts with a gang based in the adjacent city of Lawndale. Police said the confrontation between the two gangs is a simple “turf war,” not an economic battle over drug distribution. They characterized the gangs as “multi-racial"--primarily Latino but with black and white youths also among the estimated 150 members in each.
Most of the Redondo gang’s members are so-called citizen-gangsters living with parents or relatives who may not be aware of their gang affiliation, police said.
Redondo Beach police said that although the gangs have existed for three generations, their current war began in earnest last December, when a Redondo gang member shot and wounded a suspected Lawndale gang member.
On March 2, a Redondo gang member was stabbed to death at a street corner in the beach community. On April 22, shots were fired at a group of Redondo gang members. The same day, a Lawndale gang member was shot in the leg.
On May 1, a teen-age girl riding in a car with Lawndale gang members was shot and wounded. On May 2, a Lawndale gang member was shot to death, followed days later by the fatal shooting of a Redondo gang member as he worked on his car.
More recently, five Lawndale gang members were shot and wounded July 10 as they drove by a Redondo gang hangout, and police said the two gangs are responsible for “numerous other shootings into dwellings and at vehicles.”
The immediate purpose of the Wednesday morning raids, which occurred at 7 a.m., was to gather evidence--primarily firearms--that could be connected to the recent shootings and homicides, police said. Officers seized any firearms found in the residences, regardless of who owned them.
“You may have a couple of good parents who’ve got a son who’s a gangster,” Redondo Beach Lt. Jeff Cameron said. “They may not even know it. But if they’ve got guns, the kids will use them.”
The weapons will be returned if they are determined to be legal and were not involved in any crimes, Cameron said.
Police also seized ammunition and “gang paraphernalia,” including a scrapbook of gang-related photos and newspaper clippings and a T-shirt bearing the message, “In Loving Memory of Speedy, R.I.P.” Police said “Speedy” was a Redondo Beach gang member slain earlier this year.
In addition to uncovering evidence, police said, the raids also were intended to send gang members a message.
“The message is we’re not going to tolerate this sort of thing in Redondo Beach,” said Lt. Ken Kauffman. “This will put some heavy pressure on in Redondo Beach, for a while at least.”
Kauffman added, however, that the Redondo Beach gang sweep could simply create “the water bed effect” and divert the gang violence to other communities.
“When you jump on one end of the water bed,” he explained, “it bulges up somewhere else.”