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Law Enforcement Officials Hold Summit to Combat Gangs

February 12, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Law officers from across Los Angeles County convened a ″gang summit″ Thursday to plot strategy against street gangs, whose wars kill more than 300 people each year and now are heightening racial tensions.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block called the closed-door session ″a good and productive meeting.″ Authorities said they agreed to keep better crime statistics and to form committees to study the gang problem.

Block met with County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who represents predominantly black districts; District Attorney Ira Reiner; City Attorney James Hahn; and police chiefs.

Block insisted the meeting was not triggered by the Jan. 30 killing in Westwood Village of 27-year-old Karen Toshima of Long Beach, who was caught in the crossfire of a gang gun battle.

The shooting terrified citizens who frequent the popular theater and restaurant district near UCLA.

But it also caused racial tensions because citizens of gang-infested black communities contended the Police Department, which deployed more officers to Westwood after the shooting, was ignoring them in favor of the affluent district.

″We addressed a number of important issues and agreed that there has to be the establishment of subcommittees of law enforcement officers under the Los Angeles County Peace Officers Association,″ Block said after the meeting.

The subcommittees will attempt to standardize the definition of a gang member, Block said, and also standardize procedures for compiling statistics on gang violence.

Robert Vernon, assistant chief of the LAPD, said it will be tough to halt gang violence immediately.

He cited the department’s anti-drug program, which educates schoolchildren about the dangers of narcotics and encourages them to be individuals rather than join gangs.

″We’re optimistic in the long term we’ll see results,″ Vernon said. ″But these are youngsters in grade schools. We’re hoping there will be a new generation that won’t be in gangs.″

He said the immediate need is for laws allowing authorities to use phone taps to pick up gang conversations about crimes.

″Most people don’t understand we don’t have authority for wiretaps. Only federal authorities have,″ Vernon said.

Even before Ms. Toshima’s killing, authorities said the gang problem in Los Angeles was spinning out of control.

According to Hahn, there were 921 gang battles in the county last year, compared to 491 in 1986. There were also a record 387 gang-related killings in the county in 1987, 57 more than 1986.

Los Angeles is the nation’s most populous county, with 8.4 million residents, and thousands of street gang members of all races walk its streets. Some use automatic weapons and control distribution of rock cocaine, also known as ″crack.″

As the gang warfare continued this week, claiming the life Tuesday of wheelchair-bound, 67-year-old Alma Lee Washington, the City Council voted to add 150 new police officers to combat violence in the streets.

The measure would raise the number of officers to 7,500. It is in addition to an already approved increase of 250 officers, who are to be deployed in the latter half of this year.

″If there’s anything this city learned from the last week, it’s that this city needs more police officers in every part of the city,″ Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said following the vote.

Yaroslavsky had proposed a $25,000 reward in the Westwood shooting, but withdrew the proposal after representatives of poorer neighborhoods protested, contending that ongoing gang violence in those districts is frequently ignored.

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