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Los Angeles Police Chief Declares War on Gangs

The new Los Angeles police chief has declared war on the city's gangs. Although the murder rate is falling in most U.S. cities, it has soared in Los Angeles to more than 600 killings this year, the highest number since 1996.

While that figure is much lower than it was 10 years ago, local officials are worried. There were 35 murders in the last two weeks of November, most of them gang related. The victims were overwhelmingly young blacks and Hispanics. They include Clyve Jackson, a 14-year-old boy killed in gang crossfire last week.

Chief Bratton, with just one month on the job, has announced a war on gangs, with a focus on the gang-infested neighborhoods of south Los Angeles. "We always must remember what this is all about. It's about trying to prevent, to the greatest degree possible, the taking of another life such as the young man we have referenced here today," says Chief Bratton. "No 14 year old in this city should be afraid to walk the streets."

There have been earlier promises to clean up the city's violence, but this one is getting more attention. Mr. Bratton, termed a "super-cop" by a local newspaper, was credited with cutting crime in New York when he headed the city's police force in the 1990s. Heading west to Los Angeles, he took the reins of a department mired in scandal and under a federal mandate rid itself of rogue officers and eliminate abuses.

Mr. Bratton's 9,000 member department suffers from low morale and depleted numbers. He says he needs at least 1,000 new officers, preferably more, but in the meantime will re-deploy existing resources.

A supporter of "community policing," he wants more officers on the streets of crime-ridden neighborhoods, and says local police officials must be held accountable for crime in their neighborhoods. He is also asking for help from federal officials. "We are interacting with the federal agencies in this city. I'll be meeting shortly with the U.S. attorney for the city. We are seeking to enlist their efforts in a similar way to what the federal government did in New York City in attacking the five Mafia crime families," says Chief Bratton. "Believe me, having spent time in New York City, the Mafia crime families were no more intimidating or impactful than the gangs of Los Angeles."

Los Angeles gangs, which are active in the drug trade, have tentacles that extend to most major U.S. cities. Latino gangs have a reach that extends south through Mexico to Central America. The police official says the gangs must be dealt with first of all in Los Angeles before they become a threat in other places.