A series of deadly police shootings in California has officials worried that street gang culture is emboldening gunmen to target officers, reports the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Daily News. The latest victim was a California Highway Patrol officer shot and killed last week as he left a courthouse. In San Francisco, an officer, 29, was killed this month after approaching a suspected gang member who opened fire with an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle. In Merced, an officer was fatally shot this month by a man he pulled over for a traffic stop.
A 16-year-old boy was charged Friday with the murder of California Highway Patrol officer Thomas Steiner, 35, who was shot in front of the Pomona South Courthouse, where he was to testify in traffic cases. The youth was allegedly seeking to execute any officer he could find; prosecutors linked the killing to gang activity.
Slaying an officer can enhance the status of the gang and the gang member, giving them notoriety and protection inside the prison system, said Darren Levine, a Los Angeles County prosecutor.
Attacks against Los Angeles Police Department officers have jumped more than a third, from 29 in 2002 to 40 last year, reports the Los Angeles Daily news. Law enforcement officials are looking to create a multiagency task force to deal with the growing number of ambushes of officers. “People in law enforcement are targets,” said Los Angeles Police Protective League President Bob Baker, whose union represents the Los Angeles Police Department’s rank and file.
William Spelman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas in Austin, said the incident of the highway patrol officer was not typical of gang behavior. “This is just one crazy guy trying to impress his gang,” said Spelman, who developed community-based policing programs on the East Coast. “It doesn’t make any logical sense for a gang to do this on a regular basis. It’s suicidal.”