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 in killings that is counter to the trend citywide 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 during all of last year.
The number of other gang-related crimes in the Valley is also on the rise compared to the rest of the city. The Valley has experienced a 23% increase in gang crimes during the first six months of this year compared to last year, with the Foothill Division--one of five in the Valley--reporting a 77% jump, 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. Citywide, gang-related homicides are down 5.5% this year, from 146 during the first six months of 1994 to 138 for the same period in 1995.
Police say the increase in the Valley has come, in part, from growing numbers of renegade outlaws 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 two-year truce.
“Only six of the guys in our peace treaty have been killed since it took effect,” 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.”
Police report that crimes involving Asian gangs have roughly doubled this year in the Valley. For the first six months of the year, Asian gang members were involved in at least five homicides, six attempted murders and seven robberies, police said.
Over Easter weekend, for example, two Latino teen-agers were gunned down and killed by a group of Asian youths, apparently the result of an ongoing conflict over territory between Latino and Asian gang members on Valerio Street in Van Nuys, police said.
Tuller speculated that there may have also been substantially fewer gang killings last year because of a large police presence in the Valley following the Northridge quake. In 1993, police report there were 44 gang-related killings.
Some Los Angeles police detectives contend the increase in gang-related crimes is the result of a broader classification system that took effect this year--an argument disputed by department superiors.
Even so, the hold of the gang truce has been tenuous this year, say police and gang members.
Following a rash of gang-related violence about six weeks ago, it seemed the truce was deteriorating, said Lt. Joe Garcia, who leads detectives at the Foothill Division.
Martinez said some Valley residents have spread rumors that the peace treaty is off. In addition, he and other volunteers have not been able to devote the same amount of time 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.”
On the street, the view is slightly different.
“The peace treaty is not like what it 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.”
He added: “It’s not about drugs or money. People just don’t want other people on their block.”
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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:
1995 Crimes: 147
Change from 1994: + 25%
1995 Crimes: 296
Change from 1994: +77%
1995 Crimes: 145
Change from 1994: -1%
1995 Crimes: 241
Change from 1994: +21%
Source: LAPD; Researched by JULIE TAMAKI / Los Angeles Times