Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti defended the city’s crime-fighting strategy Friday, saying more highly trained cops and gang intervention efforts are being deployed in the hardest-hit areas to help reduce a dramatic hike in killings last month.
“We are still the safest big city in America,” Garcetti said during a news conference at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Mission Division, where the department started to roll out its use of body cameras for officers earlier in the week.
Thirty-nine people were killed in Los Angeles last month, marking the deadliest August in the city since 2007, when 41 people were slain. Through Saturday, 185 people had been killed in the city this year -- a nearly 7% increase compared with the same period in 2014, according to LAPD data.
Police say the upward trend has been fueled by a rise in gang violence in South L.A., where most of last month’s homicides took place.
The killings have alarmed local residents and have led the LAPD to deploy more officers from the department’s elite Metropolitan Division to especially violent neighborhoods in South L.A.
Garcetti said the officers going to South L.A. are “good community officers and good tactical officers” who will get out of their cars and walk beats in high-crime areas.
Garcetti also said the city’s gang intervention program will be expanding in the coming weeks to cover 70% of areas where gangs operate.
“Those are folks who can actually go to the shot callers and say, ‘Hey, can we put gang truces out there, can we look at what’s happening and make sure that whatever retribution is going back and forth, we stop it in its tracks?’” he said.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said his department’s South Bureau had set up a command post that is staffed 20 hours a day and is overseen by a captain or higher-ranking officer to coordinate the response. Officers, he said, are meeting with gang intervention workers, clergy and other community groups to quell the violence.
“They are firing on all cylinders to reduce the problem,” Beck said at the news conference.
Meanwhile, community activists called on Garcetti to hold an emergency gang violence summit, which would bring together civil rights leaders, residents, anti-gang violence workers and gang members in an effort to curtail the surge in homicides.
The groups, which include the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and Project Islamic Hope, want to see the mayor’s office and the city provide more job resources, after-school programs and other outreach activities to hot spot areas.
Simply deploying additional officers into South L.A. shouldn’t be the sole response, said Najee Ali, president of Project Islamic Hope.
“The quickest way to stop a bullet is with a job,” Ali said. “What’s disheartening to hear is the police chief’s only plan is to put more officers in South L.A. How about working with city officials to put more jobs in South L.A. for young people?”
Ali said the mayor’s efforts to send in more intervention workers and assemble a clergy task force were a good first step, but more is needed.
“We need him to show he has the political will to help bring together the warring factions of South L.A.,” he said. “We believe the best way to do that is through a summit hosted by the mayor’s office ... instead of individual groups working in silos.
“We need to have a comprehensive murder-and-violence-reduction program by the mayor’s office.”
Los Angeles Times staff writers Joseph Serna, Kate Mather and Nicole Santa Cruz contributed to this report.