LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles police will publicly name 11 of the city’s worst street gangs on Thursday and put some members on the FBI’s national most wanted list in a crackdown on crime in what has become known as the “gang capital of America.”
A “gang czar” will be appointed and police officers redeployed to gang-infested areas in a much-anticipated offensive to stem an alarming increase in drive-by shootings and murders in a city which has an estimated 720 gangs with some 40,000 members.
Details of the plan, leaked to Los Angeles newspapers, will be formally unveiled later on Thursday by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who grew up on the city’s tough Eastside streets, and Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton.
The strategy breaks with past policy by publicly naming 11 gangs and their members — something police have been reluctant to do for fear of giving gangs notoriety.
The new approach “challenges these menaces by exposing their corrosive behavior to the scrutiny of a more informed and confident community,” according to a briefing paper.
The measures follow a 14 percent overall increase in violent gang-related crime in 2006. One area of the suburban San Fernando Valley saw a nearly 160 percent rise in such violence. Police say street gangs were responsible for 56 percent of the 478 murders in the city last year.
One of the named gangs is the notorious Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, which formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s to protect early immigrants escaping civil war in El Salvador.
The gang has an estimated 50,000 members in at least six nations but police will focus on their efforts in a handful of local neighborhoods.
Some gang experts said they were disappointed with the plan, which follows an independent report calling for a comprehensive approach including more projects providing disaffected teens with jobs and alternatives to gang life.
Malcolm Klein, professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, said the decision to publicly name gangs was a mistake.
“These kids will walk with clippings in their pockets. Kids join gangs for identity, status, reputation and a sense of excitement. If you declare war on gangs, you are feeding exactly what they joined for in the first place,” Klein said in a telephone interview.