Arrests generate publicity, criticism
One was arrested after buying an ice cream cone in Mexico. Another was nabbed hiding out in Guatemala.
And late Wednesday a third member of the LAPD’s top 10 most wanted gang list -- author Kody “Monster” Scott -- was arrested in the Florence area, just weeks after submitting a manuscript to his publisher for a second book based on his life growing up in South Los Angeles.
“Three down and seven to go,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a news conference Thursday. “We have asked the community to engage and partner with us in reducing violent crime and the community has responded.”
The Los Angeles Police Department raised eyebrows when it created top-10 lists of gangs in L.A. and gang fugitives as part of a new crackdown.
The fugitive list has generated much publicity, and police officials are quick to point out that the goal is to take dangerous suspects off the street.
But some skeptics say the list also masks the inability of police to find and arrest thousands of other fugitives and gang members in the city.
There are 27,664 fugitive warrants in the system for the LAPD, and the unit tasked with finding these suspects captured 1,762 last year.
That’s a success rate much lower than the LAPD is recording with the top 10 list.
Some critics say the list is more about public relations than addressing gang violence.
“These high-profile arrests are for the public, to make the public feel that at least somebody is doing something. But it does not have anything to do with a long-range solution,” said Larry Aubry of Community Call to Action and Accountability.
Vernon Andrews, head of a gang intervention program in the Venice area, agreed.
The list “is a publicity stunt that exaggerates what they are doing. They are not really doing that much.” Andrews said the LAPD should focus more resources on attacking the entire fugitive list -- not just a few selected names.
Police officials deny they are trying to gin up publicity but acknowledge that the high-profile arrests help their cause by letting the community know they are trying to take action.
The mayor and LAPD Chief William J. Bratton launched the crackdown last month in the wake of a nearly 16% jump in gang crime last year, despite a decline in overall crime.
Although gang crime including murder is down significantly from the 1990s, gang members are believed to be responsible for 56% of the homicides in Los Angeles last year.
Bratton said the gang initiative was more than these three high-profile arrests and was saving lives, noting a drop in homicides during the first two months of this year.
He said Scott’s arrest was based on a tip from the public, demonstrating the benefit of the list, but he acknowledged that there are thousands more who could go on the list.
“There are a lot of fugitives out there,” he said. “But our fugitive squad is doing extremely well. Better than ever. Our patrol officers are arresting people on warrants every day.”
Scott is the self-proclaimed founder of the 8-Trey Gangster Crips.
He was arrested by LAPD officers on Brighton Street in the Florence area, where he was spotted riding a bicycle and wearing a knit cap with two fake corn-row braids as a disguise. He made a half-hearted attempt to flee but was arrested without violence, said Officer Bill Mixer.
Bratton said the arrest was significant because it was carried out by LAPD officers, unlike the two previous top 10 arrests.
The suspect caught in Mexico last week had been the focus of a federal fugitive task force for the last 18 months and was nearly nabbed a month before his name appeared on the LAPD’s list.
Bratton said all of the fugitives have evaded arrest, many for years. On Dec. 12, Scott broke into a man’s home and beat him “so bad he needed facial reconstructive surgery,” and then stole the man’s Jaguar, Bratton said.
Scott could face felony charges of first-degree burglary, carjacking, first-degree residential robbery, grand theft auto and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury.
If convicted, the charges could represent a third strike under the state’s sentencing law, making Scott possibly subject to life in prison without parole, Bratton said, adding that Scott is 43 and has spent 26 years in jail.
Morgan Entrekin, Scott’s editor at the independent publishing house Grove/Atlantic, said he talked to Scott by telephone last week and urged him to turn himself in.
“He seemed worn out,” Entrekin said. Entrekin said Scott’s brush with the law is “sad. It seems a shame because it seemed he had a path forward.”
Scott’s family says the police put him on the list because of his high profile, including the fame and money that came 14 years ago with the publishing of “Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member.” Bratton said he read the book and did not like it or Scott.
Scott has said he is no longer a gang member, has converted to Islam and has been in talks with film executives to make a movie about his life.
Scott recently submitted the manuscript to his publisher for a novel about growing up in South Los Angeles.
Bratton also announced Thursday that Scott’s place on the top 10 list will be taken by Rudy Angel Magena, a member of the Compton Tortilla Flat gang in the San Fernando Valley who is wanted for murder.