Los Angeles police officer Ryan Whiteman is in the vanguard of a push to target hard-core gangs, not with sweeping paramilitary force but with aggressive, targeted enforcement by officers who know the players in the hood, reports the Los Angeles Times. The mayor’s office and the police department are promising to consolidate thinly scattered anti-gang resources and pour them into 12 beleaguered neighborhoods — gang reduction zones — where intense suppression would be coupled with gang intervention and prevention programs.
Law enforcement is now voicing a refrain that has long been the lonely cry of civil libertarians and community activists: Street gangs are a social phenomenon that cannot simply be bludgeoned out of existence. “What we’ve really had in the past is a mass incarceration strategy,” said Jeff Carr, L.A.’s deputy mayor for gang reduction and youth development. “We’ve locked a lot of people up and we still have this epidemic problem.” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is trying to build a network of agencies and nonprofits to lock up hard-core gangbangers, break cycles of retaliatory violence and keep troubled kids off the precipice. So far eight of the zones are running, with only the law enforcement part in place. The prevention and intervention side of the equation has been in disarray for years, with programs dispersed and never evaluated. “We’re really good at solving shootings,” said Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who jump-started an intervention initiative last year. “But the important thing with gang homicides is to stop the next one. We’re not as good at that.”