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Gang-Related Murders Rise in Valley : Crime: Number of killings in ’95 has nearly equaled all of last year. But some observers say large police presence after ’94 Northridge quake kept violence down.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The number of gang-related murders in the San Fernando Valley during the first seven months of the year has nearly matched the total for all of 1994, a dramatic increase that runs counter to a citywide trend and comes despite a Latino gang truce.

So far this year, Los Angeles police have tallied 27 gang-related killings in the Valley, compared to 29 last year.

The number of gang-related crimes is also on the rise in the Valley compared to the rest of the city. The Valley has experienced a 23% increase in gang crimes in the first six months of this year compared to last year, with the Foothill Division--one of five in the Valley--reporting a 77% increase, said Los Angeles Police Lt. Fred Tuller, who heads the Valley Bureau’s gang unit.

By comparison, gang-related crime throughout Los Angeles has dropped by 1% during the same period. Across the city, gang-related homicides are down 5.5% this year, from 146 in the first six months of 1994 to 138 for the same period in 1995.

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Police say the increase in the Valley has come, in part, from growing numbers of renegade outlaws who are not participating in the truce. A burgeoning number of Asian and African American gangs have also contributed to the problem, say community activists who have worked closely with Latino gang members to preserve the nearly 2-year-old truce.

“Only six of the guys [who agreed to the truce] have been killed,” said Steve Martinez, a former gang member who has worked to maintain the truce. “Three of them were killed by Asian gang members this year.”

Tuller speculated that there may have also been substantially fewer gang killings last year because of a large police presence in the Valley after the Northridge quake. In 1993--the year before the quake--police report there were 44 gang-related killings.

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“Last year is a very bad year to base statistics on because of the earthquake,” Tuller said. “We had a tremendous number of police officers out on the streets for several months.”

This year the gang truce does not seem to be holding, police and gang members say.

After a rash of gang-related violence about six weeks ago, it seemed the truce was deteriorating, said Lt. Joe Garcia, who is in charge of detectives at the Foothill Division.

Martinez said some residents in the Valley have been spreading rumors that the peace treaty is off. In addition, he and other volunteers have not been able to devote the same amount of time and energy toward preserving the truce as they did last year.

“Last year we used to defuse a lot of problems before they turned into anything . . . we’d hear a rumor and go and investigate it,” said Martinez, a father of four. “But it takes a lot of time and my wife has told me she needs me at home more.”

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On the street, the view is slightly different.

“The peace treaty is not like what was before,” said “Bones,” a 16-year-old gang member in Van Nuys who declined to give his name. “People go to parties and get drunk. . . . They just don’t care.”

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He added: “It’s not about drugs or money. People just don’t want other people on their block.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Gang- Related Crimes Overall, gang- related crimes are on the increase in the San Fernando Valley. From January 1 through June 30, 1,004 crimes were reported, 23% more than last year. The 27 gang- related murders reported so far this year nearly equal the 29 killings for all of last year. Figures for the Valley’s five police divisons from Jan.1 through June 30, 1995:

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Devonshire:

1995 Crimes: 147, Change from 1994: + 25%

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Foothill

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1995 Crimes: 296, Change from 1994: +77%

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West Valley

1995 Crimes: 145, Change from 1994: -1%

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Van Nuys

1995 Crimes: 241, Change from 1994: +21%

Source: LAPD; Researched by JULIE TAMAKI / Los Angeles Times


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