RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Los Angeles is the setting for what's being called an international gang summit. Cross-border gangs are being blamed for a growing level of deadly violence in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. And it turns out that many of those gangs have strong links to L.A., a city the FBI calls ground zero for modern gang activity.
Here's NPR's Mandalit del Barco.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Los Angeles has plenty of homegrown gang bangers, but many of them have connections south of the border in Mexico and Central America. That's why authorities from those countries are now in L.A. for a three-day gang summit led by LAPD Chief William Bratton.
WILLIAM BRATTON: Good morning. Buenos dias. Hola.
DEL BARCO: Yesterday, Bratton welcomed his counterparts from Mexico, Central America, and Canada. For the first time, they're sharing intelligence on violent street gangs. The FBI's Stephen Tidwell says it's part of a new effort to trap transnational gang bangers.
STEPHEN TIDWELL: They're deported from here and they go back and they start their postgraduate studies down there. They bounce back to us. We're going to really have to make sure how we are managing intelligence on them. We're going to have to really focus that and fine-tune that.
DEL BARCO: One of their targets is the Maras Salvatrucha, the MS13 gang, which reportedly has tens of thousands of members in the U.S. and Latin America. The gang started with young Salvadorans who escaped civil war in the 1980s and fled to L.A. barrios. Members of the MS13 gang are routinely deported to El Salvador, where police have reacted with what's known as the mana luras(ph), the hard hand approach.
Gang interventionist, Susan Cruz(ph) says there were random roundups and frequent cases of police brutality against anyone sporting gang tattoos.
SUSAN CRUZ: In El Salvador, every now and then, you have death squads, you know, they come around, same thing in Guatemala. So if anything, I will like to see the U.S. law enforcement, you know, try, you know, to remind, you know, our - their Central American counterparts what law enforcement means. And that also means not killing people.
RODRIGO AVILA: In the past, mana luras, this strategy was just to arrest them for the heck of it. Just for whatever reason.
DEL BARCO: Rodrigo Avila is director general of the National Police in El Salvador. He says tactics have changed. For example, police in the U.S. are now sharing fingerprints and other information on deported gang members.
AVILA: Now, we are arresting them with a lot of evidence, technical and scientific evidence. And we are getting a lot of - como se, se condenas - a lot of convictions.
DEL BARCO: Today, Avila and other Central America police chiefs plan to ride along with L.A. cops, as they cruise through gang territories. And Chief Bratton will launch his own anti-gang plan for the city, that includes the controversial step of identifying L.A.'s worst gangs in what amounts to a top 10 list.
BRATTON: A major part of what we're trying to do is remove the mystique or the veil of secrecy about gangs, and lay them out for what they are, who they are, and what they're doing.
DEL BARCO: Listing those gangs is a departure from past policies that discouraged anything that might glorify gangs by name. Some gang members themselves say making that list would be a badge of honor.
Unidentified Man: They're just promoting them more. It gives them more of a reason to be out there, you know.
DEL BARCO: This 17-year-old member of the Sanford gang in Sylmar says the list will have just the opposite impact of what the police want.
DEL BARCO: I mean, I think it's a stupid idea. Someone is going to be like, oh, that's my gang, and go out there and gang bang more, you know. And that's kind of stupid. They're just promoting it.
DEL BARCO: One of the gangs likely to be on that list is MS13. Orlando Valle is a non-active member who worries he'll be targeted for his past associations.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
ORLANDO VALLE: You know, sooner or later because of everything that's going on, they're going to get me. And I'm going to get deported. Ask me how I'm going to make it in El Salvador. I don't know. I've been here since I was three years old.
DEL BARCO: Valle and others will find out later today who made that list and what police may have in store for them.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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