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L.A. exports gang terror

first_imgThe techniques are increasingly similar on both sides of the border. In El Salvador, officials say, gang members commit half of the country’s homicides. But there, gang members have derailed the city’s infrastructure. In December 2005, Salvadoran gangs demanding “taxes” killed a series of bus drivers, shutting down service. Local police are afraid some of the more brazen tactics Central American gangs use will emerge in Los Angeles. “Their tactics are a lot more vicious than other gangs, they are more violent and they are everywhere,” said Robert Loofle, the FBI agent overseeing Los Angeles’ criminal division. “They use intimidation to get what they want, they will commit a vicious homicide to show their power and the force, then easily cross the border. “We have to clamp down now so they don’t evolve into something stronger and more vicious.” Cooperation needed Key to slowing gang activity is better cooperation among police agencies in all countries – an item officials will focus on this week. All are clamoring for better intelligence. Now, local law enforcement agencies contact other countries when they are looking for a suspect to be extradited. With increased cooperation, federal and local authorities hope they can eventually share surveillance on gang members and knowledge of their activities. “Our fear is that they become franchises and unwittingly help other organizations like narco-traffickers as muscle or transporting money,” Loofle said. In areas of the San Fernando Valley, where transnational gangs such as MS 13 and 18th Street have taken root in North Hollywood and Van Nuys in recent years, violent gang crime has soared. Most troubling, police say, is the rising level of witness intimidation, which criminal organizations use to keep their members out of jail. In the North Hollywood area, the number of intimidation cases rose 85 percent in 2005-06, from 13 to 24. “The part that scares us is that the percentage of increase of violent gang crime is higher in the Valley than any other regions … we need to act fast,” Nanson said. Last year the San Fernando Valley saw a 42 percent increase in violent gang crime and citywide, gang crime jumped 14 percent. There has also been a rise in hate crimes among gang members. New anti-gang effort The summit comes a day before Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is set to release a sweeping anti-gang effort and follows a high-profile report finding the city’s gang prevention piecemeal and ineffective. Community activists have lobbied for intervention efforts such as lengthening school hours and providing job opportunities. But stopping the spread of gangs – who can call on strong family ties and rooted criminal networks in both countries – will prove tough. “The idea of eradicating them is erroneous and the way of totally severing the ties is misconceived,” said Tom Ward, a University of Southern California expert on Central American gangs. “As long as you have migrants coming back, how are you going to determine which one is a gang member or an ex-gang member? “Gangs are a reflection of society, they are symptom of sick societies, you address the social problems that bred the gangs and they won’t necessarily go away but the problems they cause will be significantly diminished,” Ward said. Federal crackdown Responding to the surge in gang activity nationally, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2005 launched Operation Community Shield targeting gangs across the U.S. Under the effort, more than 4,302 street-gang members from 442 gangs were arrested, about one-fourth of those on pending criminal charges. Over the past decade, as hundreds of gang members have been deported – immigration officials have no official estimate of just how many – and others returned home, a new gang culture emerged in their home country. “It used to be for kids in the poor neighborhoods … Now it’s kids from well-to-do homes,” said Rodrigo Avila, El Salvador’s top law enforcement official. “They are forced into it, under pressure.” [email protected] (818) 713-37412160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Acknowledging that Los Angeles is the epicenter of a global gang crisis, fueling violence from Guatemala to Russia, law enforcement officials from around the world will meet this week to tackle the scourge. LAPD Chief William Bratton will open a three-day summit today to discuss the migration of gang members from Southern California to their homelands, bringing a culture of violence and terror. “We are seeing the international gang problem growing by leaps and bounds,” said Lt. Gary Nanson, head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley gang unit. “They have opened up the door for the local criminal. They are more worldly in their ability to franchise, they can move stolen goods or narcotics or money across boundaries.” The summit will focus on gangs with ties to Central America. Becoming increasingly sophisticated and murderous, these transnational gangs – such as the U.S.-grown Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 – are ravaging poor Central American communities and terrorizing Los Angeles neighborhoods. last_img read more