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FBI joins forces with LAPD on gang slayings

Kashmier James had spent most of Christmas Day 2010 with family before heading off in the evening to visit with high school friends in the Manchester Square neighborhood of South Los Angeles.

As she arrived at her destination in the 1700 block of 85th Street near Western Avenue, half a dozen people stood talking on the sidewalk.

With her 3-year-old daughter still strapped in her car seat, James got out of her vehicle. Within moments, she was hit with a fusillade of gunshots.

Interactive: Gang killing details

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For months, the James killing and dozens of other gang-related slayings like it remained unsolved.

Taxed detectives finally got some assistance in July when the FBI joined forces with the Los Angeles Police Department’s criminal gang homicide unit for a three-month operation called Save Our Streets.

The goal was to clear the backlog of unsolved gang killings in the LAPD’s South Bureau and to put a crimp in ongoing gang violence in an era of shrinking resources.

“It’s no longer an FBI strategy or an LAPD strategy,” said Robert Clark, an FBI assistant special agent in charge of the bureau’s anti-gang efforts in Los Angeles. “It’s a collaborative strategy.”

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This year, detectives and agents teamed to solve 32 homicides, resulting in 168 related arrests, Clark said.

In comparison, the team solved 27 killings and made 28 arrests from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2010.

The concept has been emulated at the Milwaukee field office, which teamed up with police there to combat gang crime.

The slaying of James, 25, in front of her child was decried as a depraved act, but that wasn’t enough to convince reluctant witnesses to come forward in area hit hard by ongoing gang feuds, authorities said.

A week after James was killed — and just two blocks away — 14-year-old Taburi Watson was fatally shot while riding his bicycle.

Complicating matters, the slayings came as budget cuts forced the LAPD to drastically limit overtime and, by extension, the number of hours dedicated to investigations.

The case clearance rate has jumped with the FBI presence, authorities said.

Normally, the average annual solve rate among South L.A. gang cases is around 50%, said veteran LAPD Det. Sal LaBarbera. The clearance number under Save Our Streets is above 70%.

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com


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