L.A. Police Lists the City's Top Gangs

In Los Angeles, a new strategy of listing the city's worst gangs has created a stir among some of the gang-bangers who've been identified. But it remains to be seen whether the list will make a difference as Los Angeles authorities launch a major crackdown on gang violence.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Los Angeles, police are working with the FBI to target street gangs blamed for 70 percent of the city's violent crime. Yesterday, L.A. launched an intense new crackdown that will soon be led by a city gang czar. Police also released a list of what they called the worst gangs in town.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Standing with the police chief at a patrol station in the valley, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a new strategy to publicly identify L.A.'s top 11 gangs and the 10 most notorious gang members.

Mr. ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Mayor of Los Angeles, California): What we're saying is we're going to put your face on TV. We're going to expose you so everybody in your neighborhood knows who you are and we can hold you accountable for the consequences of your actions.

DEL BARCO: The LAPD is targeting six predominantly Latino gangs, including the Mara Salvatrucha, and the 204th Street Gang, and the La Mirada Locos. Five black gangs are also on the list - the Grape Street Crips, Rollin' 30s, 40s, and 60s, and the Black P-Stones. The department is also naming the most notorious gangbangers with street names like Looney, Caspers, Spanky, and Monster Cody.

Mr. BILL MIXER(ph) (Gang Detective): Monster Cody is a monster.

DEL BARCO: Gang detective, Bill Mixer, describes why 44-year-old Cody DeJohn Scott made it to the list. He's currently a parolee at large and a witness to a murder.

Mr. MIXER: Cody, every time he's been arrested, it's been a fight with the police. He will do anything to try and get away. So it's always been a violent confrontation with him.

DEL BARCO: Monster Cody or one of the others will soon be posted on the FBI's most wanted list. But many officers say they hate to give any more publicity to these characters.

Mr. MICHAEL MORRIS (Los Angeles Police Department): They'll take pride and the bravado that their name would be referenced as the most violent. That's the twistedness of this.

DEL BARCO: Deputy Chief Michael Morris says LAPD policy has until now discouraged anything that could be seen as emboldening criminals.

Mr. MORRIS: You know, why do you people tag a wall? They want to be seen. They want to be known. What I don't like to do is give them too much notoriety. They shouldn't kill people, innocent people.

DEL BARCO: Former gang members and those trying to lure young people away from the gangs agree.

Mr. ALEX SANCHEZ: By you labeling the top gangs that are public enemy number one, you're feeding to the ego of a gang member.

DEL BARCO: Alex Sanchez is a former member of the Mara Salvatrucha, who now heads the gang prevention group Homies Unidos.

Mr. SANCHEZ: A gang member wants to go to prison because it's part of their rites of passage in the gang. A gang member always seeks recognition. They all want their gangs to be number one. So now they're all going to fight for there gangs to be part of that 10. By feeding into that, you're just advancing the process for them to continue their gang lifestyle.

DEL BARCO: Meeting with police officers and reporters yesterday, Chief William Bratton defended his policy change.

Mr. WILLIAM BRATTON (Los Angeles Police Department): I'm from back east. Back east, we publicized our criminals, because we found that it basically helps get them prosecuted, get them arrested. So if you want to stand up and get some notoriety, I'll be happy to seek you out, arrest you and put you in jail for the rest of your life.

(Soundbite of speeding motorcycle)

DEL BARCO: Number one on the LAPD's list is the 18th Street Gang, which police say is one of the oldest, largest and most violent Latino gangs. It sort of started near where I'm standing on 18th Street in the Latino immigrant neighborhood of Pico Union. The original 18th Street Gang member supposedly created this clique when the Mexican-American gangs wouldn't have him. Now, there are 18th Street gangs as far as Honduras and El Salvador.

Unidentified Woman: We're one of the biggest neighborhoods there is - this has been going for generations and generations.

DEL BARCO: This 30-year-old woman is a fourth generation member of the 18th Street Gang. Her daughter is a member, too. She views this latest crackdown as a publicity stunt. And she expects the police to make wholesale roundups of anyone even remotely linked to 18th Street.

Unidentified Woman: So they're dirty like that. But then again, we're the ones that are dirty out on the streets. But only that they have a badge, we don't.

DEL BARCO: She says the LAPD has turned up the heat before, but she claims it has never had a lasting impact on gang violence.

Unidentified Woman: They need to get more programs out here. You know, for the youngsters and the people that are in danger of joining the gangs. And you know, give people jobs. That's what they need to do.

DEL BARCO: City officials say they recognize that enforcement isn't the sole solution to fixing the gang problems, but it maybe the most visible.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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