Gang violence is up sharply nationwide, and some police say the problem requires national solutions, reports the Christian Science Monitor. A bill that could vastly expand federal antigang efforts is pending in Congress. Los Angeles is becoming a leading advocate for greater coordination among local police and the FBI.
Local and statewide databases are already operating in several places, and police departments are working together to coordinate stings and drug busts, as well as share patrol cars, personnel, and even jail space. “No municipality in the country can solve this without help at the federal level,” Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton tells the Monitor. “There is a giant need for Congress and [the] president to recognize that gangs are the emerging monster of crime in America. The war on terrorism now needs to focus on domestic terrorism. People in America’s biggest cities aren’t concerned about a hijacked plane hitting their neighborhood as much as they are on edge about drive-by shootings and stabbings on their front lawns.”
Not everyone agrees with Bratton, but the problem is on the rise. Across the nation, youth-gang homicides jumped from 692 in 1999 to 1,100 in 2002. “It’s clearly time to develop a national strategy,” says Matthew McLaughlin of the FBI in Los Angeles. The FBI recently joined with Bratton and other law enforcers to hold a conference on the issue. Two more will be held this year, to examine both the nature of the problem and how to create a larger dragnet coast to coast.
Some experts say Bratton overstates the extent of gang migration from such cities as Chicago and Los Angeles to rural and urban areas. “Bratton compares these gangs with the mafia, but they are no such thing. They are indigenous, local entities,” says Malcolm Klein of the University of Southern California, who has studied gangs for 40 years.
Many police departments, faced with budget cuts, say they have had to commit resources to ntiterror operations. “[Congress] took the money from existing [domestic] programs, often those devoted to gangs,” says Jonathan Miller, homeland security chief for the Los Angeles Police Department. “So now that all these same entities are looking for money to fight gangs, they are finding that it is all gone.” A bill by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah and Dianne Feinstein (D) of California would authorize $700 million for local antigang efforts and make street-gang recruitment a federal crime.