Law enforcement officials praise success of South LA task force

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imageLos Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday he was proud of the results from the second year of Save Our Streets, a three-month collaboration between South Los Angeles police officers and the FBI.

This summer, the task force solved 50 murders, 85 percent of them gang-related. They included the Christmas Day shooting of Kashmier James ,who was killed in front of her 3-year-old daughter, and the killing later that week of Taburi Watson a 14-year-old boy riding his bicycle.

LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon said the program helped bring closure to families who otherwise might never find answers.

“The homicide detectives, they do what they do, they get out at all hours of the night, they pull their hair out trying to find witnesses and people to cooperate in investigations, and they do it for the families,” he said. “The bond that they actually have with these families is actually unbelievable. But there’s a lot more work to be done.”

That work includes nearly 1,000 more unsolved homicides, some dating back to 1978. South Los Angeles remains far from safe, as a deadly shooting Tuesday at Algin Sutton Park on Hoover Street illustrated.

But Beck, and Stephen Martinez, the assistant director of the FBI in Los Angeles, worry that the program might not be renewed for another year. It relies on hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds to pay FBI agents and allow LAPD officers to work overtime, as well as to support an effort to digitize years of records.

“It is a sad but true statement to say that our ability to solve crime is often hampered by lack of funds,” Beck said. “When we can get federal funds, and we can get federal support, we can make a lot of progress, as has been evidenced by this task force.”

Gannon said the LAPD could use the help.

“The work goes on,” he said. “With the resources, without the resources, we seem to get the job done. But having the FBI really puts a jump-start, a kick-start into some of the cases that may have fallen behind.”

Beck said he’s hoping for a decision on the funding within the next six months, so that the program could be re-instated for next summer.

Anti-gang operation makes hundreds of arrests

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imagePolice and FBI agents announced hundreds of arrests made as part of a three-month program called Save Our Streets.

The program was designed to help overworked South Los Angeles police. On average, they resolve less than half of their gang cases.

FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Clark said unsolved murders can lead to a loss of faith in law enforcement.

“All too often it’s the case when a family member is murdered, they don’t know what’s going to happen, they don’t understand the process,” he said.
“It becomes very frustrating wondering what’s going on, are they going to solve the case, are they going to catch anyone, and they become extremely disenfranchised with the police department and the criminal justice system.”

Clark said the Save Our Streets program solved more than 70 percent of its cases. That included an arrest in the murder of Kashmier James, a 25-year-old woman shot on Christmas in front of her young daughter.

“I had the opportunity to meet with the family of Kashmier James, and they could not have been more thankful,” he said. “Certainly we will never be able to bring Ms. James back, but we are able to allow that family to begin the process of healing because they know that justice has been served.”

Law enforcement officials are touting the 168 arrests made since July, but they also acknowledge thousands of cases remain unsolved.

Clark said he hopes the program will continue, but that the reduction in crime levels could make it less of a priority. The final decision lies with FBI and police management.

New study says medical marijuana dispensaries lower crime rates

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A new study released by the RAND Corporation concludes that medical marijuana dispensaries decrease crime levels. The RAND Corporation’s study looked at crime rates in the areas surrounding 600 dispensaries. 170 of those shops closed after the LA City Council passed an ordinance shutting 70% of dispensaries last year. The study claims crime increased up to 60% within a three-block radius of the dispensaries after closing. Within six blocks, the rate was 25%. The LAPD has no official response yet to the the study, but Department Spokesman Lieutenant Andy Neiman did say:

“I can tell you that we know very factually that there have been very serious crimes at certain pot dispensaries, including burglary, robbery, and also murder.”

Lieutenant Neiman says the study’s conclusions don’t match the LAPD’s experience:

“You know, it’s something that has always been contrary to the common wisdom of law enforcement.”

LAPD is considering whether it will conduct its own study of the issue. Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, has conducted studies which echo RAND’s findings. Don Duncan, the group’s California Director, says the LAPD’s response is typical:

“I’m not surprised to see law enforcement skeptical—they’ve ignored research on this topic and the experiences we’ve had in the past.”

Duncan hopes that the study will help convince cities to regulate, not ban, medical marijuana:

“So, the most important thing that our elected officials could realize is that they can regulate medical cannabis. It’s not too dangerous, it’s not too complicated, and I hope that the RAND study helps reinforce that point, that regulation is really the way to go”.

The study’s author cautions that the study is a snapshot of the issue and welcomes the opportunity to review more data.