National anti-gang strategy sought

Police, FBI draw parallels to wars on terror, Mafia

January 12, 2004|By Daniel Hernandez | Daniel Hernandez,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - A national strategy similar to those used against organized crime and in counterterrorism efforts must be created to fight street gangs, federal and local law enforcement officials said yesterday at the start of a two-day conference.

The conference, sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI, was organized to help change long-standing perceptions as gangs expand beyond their traditional territories.

Gangs are growing, becoming more sophisticated and migrating into smaller cities and towns, officials said, and law enforcement agencies must find a unified approach to fight them.

"It's like a cancer that has many different smaller cancers, and it's a growing problem," said Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton. "There is no municipality in the country that can solve this without help at the federal level. We could do a lot more in cooperation."

Bratton and other officials drew parallels between anti-gang efforts and anti-Mafia strategy in the 1980s and '90s, as well as the campaign against terrorism. In such cases, agencies at all levels pool their resources.

"We don't have time for duplication anymore," said Grant D. Ashley, assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigation division.

The FBI's participation in the conference underscored the goal of making gang violence a matter of national concern, officials said. The bureau has four anti-gang squads in Los Angeles, the most in any area office, and hopes to increase anti-gang stings across the United States, said FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin.

But officials acknowledged that there are obstacles to overcome. States and cities are facing tighter budgets. Terrorism alerts divert police resources. Police departments in smaller cities lack direct contact with anti-gang efforts in big cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, which are considered the chief exporters of gang activity nationwide.

In addition, there is no nationally recognized definition of gang crime.

Police departments from 11 cities sent representatives to the conference, as did the Department of Justice; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and other agencies. Most of the conference is closed to the public and the press.

Bratton said the Los Angeles Police Department began organizing the event shortly after he arrived in 2002, and after a meeting with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. Two more conferences are planned that will include community leaders and researchers, he said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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