Los Angeles Police Department commanders and city officials are desperately seeking a solution to the problem of brazen gang outrages like the senseless, brutal slaying of 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen.
Her death has struck a nerve. These cowardly gangbangers are finally receiving the public outrage they have long deserved, heightened by President Clinton's remarks about the case. The mayor, the chief of police and other city officials have chimed in, proposing a countywide anti-gang work group and the appointment of an anti-gang "czar."
This sudden attention to the gang problem has given the LAPD's CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) program officers a glimmer of hope that they will get some much-needed support in the unpopular daily battle against these murderous thugs. Police officers have been feeling that they are virtually alone in their efforts to combat gang violence. Dedicated anti-gang officers are constantly badgered by angry gang members who file false complaints of misconduct and frivolous lawsuits. The media continues to engage in constant police-bashing.
We have gone on stringing up yellow crime-scene tape and helping paramedics load dying children into ambulances, confronted by too many frantic parents who must be told that their child is gone. More than a few police officers have quietly shed tears about the insanity of gang violence, while wondering when people will say "enough is enough."
Perhaps that time has come.
We hope that this spotlight on gang crimes will cause LAPD commanders to re-evaluate their current strategies and deployment of CRASH personnel. CRASH members have been frustrated by the department's dismantling of centralized anti-gang units; the last centralized gang unit, Operations West Bureau CRASH, was shut down six months ago, despite a 15-year history of the highest productivity, professionalism and homicide-clearance rates in the city. The department's explanation for the decentralization was that it gave patrol captains more control of the gang problem in their command areas.
At one time, each LAPD bureau had a CRASH unit that consisted of specially trained detectives and a large squad of veteran patrol officers with a vast knowledge of gangs, all housed under one roof. These units allowed for daily interaction between detectives and patrol officers, a system responsible for the quick identification and arrests of suspects--of utmost importance in gang-related investigations.
This decentralization has occurred despite the fact that major law-enforcement agencies dealing in gang enforcement and intelligence, particularly the FBI, preach that a centralized gang unit is essential to compile information and combat the rising violence and sophistication of gangs.
The LAPD now has a small band of gang officers at each division who rarely communicate with one another. They have little interaction with divisional detectives, who are not trained in gang tactics. These small, isolated divisional CRASH units cannot support the coordinated and concentrated effort needed for the gang problem we face in Los Angeles.
The killing of Stephanie Kuhen has the public in an uproar, finally speaking out and demanding action on gang atrocities. While we grieve at the death of a child, we should also remember the eight officers shot and wounded by gang members in the last six months, and the murders of LAPD Officer Charles Heim and Sheriff's Deputy Stephen Blair, both killed by gang bullets.
Citizens of Los Angeles want the mindless violence, murders and drug activity associated with gang members off their streets and out of their neighborhoods.
Citizens also want more accountability from long-winded city officials and Police Department brass. LAPD CRASH units should be made an integral part of a stronger, more intense commitment by the department to bringing law and order out of the crime and chaos caused by these lethal gangs on our city streets.