L.A. Times Praises Gang Crackdown for Preventing Dozens of Murders — The Same Gang Crackdown the L.A. Times Criticized Two Months Ago
The L.A. Times has an article titled Gang homicides down, LAPD says:
Nearly six months into the LAPD’s crackdown on gang violence, the number of gang-related homicides in Los Angeles dropped 32%, mirroring an overall decline in violent crime across the city, according to police figures released today.
The Los Angeles Police Department recorded 79 gang-related killings as of last week, compared to 117 during the same period last year. The plunge in gang killings fueled a 24% drop in overall homicides, the statistics showed.
That’s 38 fewer homicides — attributable, apparently, to a crackdown on gang members:
Officials today hailed the numbers as a sign that an offensive against gangs, launched in January by the LAPD, FBI and other law enforcement agencies, is having an effect. The crackdown was a response to a 15% increase in gang-related crimes in 2006.
In response, the LAPD shifted more police officers into neighborhoods with large concentrations of gang members, aimed at targeting 11 gangs they considered the worst. The FBI and L.A. city attorney’s office have also targeted several gangs that have been accused of racially motivated violence.
But what was the L.A. Times saying about this gang crackdown just two months ago? I remember. Do you?
For those with short memories — a group that apparently includes Times editors — here’s a little reminder.
On March 29, 2007, the L.A. Times offered a editorial disguised as a news article, filled with handwringing over the dictatorial and oppressive crackdown on gangs. The story was titled L.A. gang prosecutions called overzealous, and began:
As the city’s war on street gangs continues to unfold, Los Angeles defense attorneys are protesting what they see as overzealous prosecutions that seek enhanced jail time for suspects swept up by police for nonviolent crime.
Cases that might have been charged as misdemeanors are being filed as felonies with enhancements that increase penalties and put bail out of reach, defense lawyers say.
In some cases, judges have agreed, rebuking prosecutors by throwing out excessive charges against alleged gang members.
Robert Kalunian, chief deputy public defender for Los Angeles County, said defense attorneys are seeing a lot of aggressive prosecutions for relatively minor crimes such as vandalism and petty theft because the suspect is an alleged gang member.
“There are a lot of problems with enhanced prosecution of gang members,” Kalunian said. “We are spending a considerable amount of resources on cases that are not the crime of the century.”
The story appeared especially concerned with the idea of prosecuting gang members to the fullest extent of the law for relatively minor crimes:
“Overcharging is counterproductive,” ACLU attorney Peter Bibring said. “When one community’s kids are going to jail for extended periods of time, while another community’s kids are getting probation or time served for the same crimes, its hard for the community to see law enforcement as an ally.”
Police Chief William J. Bratton announced a crackdown on gangs in January in response to a 15.7% increase in gang crime last year in Los Angeles. Fifty-six percent of the 478 homicides in 2006 were gang-related.
Since then, gang enforcement officers have made more than 800 arrests, including 392 members of 11 gangs identified by the chief as the worst in the city.
However, many of those arrests have been for nonviolent crimes, including probation violation, drug possession, curfew violation and vandalism.
By using laws that allow longer jail and prison sentences if nonviolent crimes are committed to benefit a gang, police and prosecutors are keeping alleged gang members off the streets longer.
Kalunian questioned the pressure on nonviolent offenders.
“That’s always a danger when there is a politically hot crime, particularly on something as amorphous as gang prosecution,” Kalunian said. “The focus ought to be on serious violent offenses.”
Apparently, the ACLU, defense attorneys, and the L.A. Times wanted law enforcement to wait for gang members to commit violent crimes, before using available laws to get them off the streets for more minor crimes.
I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t listen. 38 fewer murder victims would probably agree, if you asked them.