Home News Testimony Combating Violent Street Gangs in L.A. and Nationwide
  • Robert B. Loosle
  • Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, Los Angeles Field Office
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • House Committee on Government, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources
  • Los Angeles , California
  • October 03, 2006

Good morning Chairman Souder and Ranking Member Watson. I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today about the FBI’s efforts in Los Angeles to combat violent street gangs.

Gangs and other criminal enterprises, operating in the U.S. and throughout the world, pose increasing concerns for the international law enforcement and intelligence communities. Today, gangs are more violent, more organized, and more widespread than ever before. They pose one of the greatest threats to the safety and security of all Americans.

The Department of Justice estimates there are approximately 30,000 gangs, with 800,000 members, impacting 2,500 communities across the United States. The innocent people of these communities face daily exposure to violence from criminal gangs trafficking in drugs and weapons, and gangs fighting amongst themselves to control or extend their turf and their various criminal enterprises.

Los Angeles has long been recognized as the epicenter of gang activity nationwide. Recent estimates indicate approximately 1,350 street gangs, with as many as 175,000 members in the FBI Los Angeles’ seven-county area of responsibility ( San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Orange). In addition, many gangs which today have a nationwide presence, such as the Bloods, the Crips, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and 18th Street, can trace their roots to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, street gangs comprise the primary violent crime challenge to the area’s law enforcement agencies. Although law enforcement has been effective in reducing the criminal threat posed by gangs in the Los Angeles area, recruitment efforts by gang members have continued in recent years. Local neighborhoods, prisons, the Internet, and schools have been targeted as “hot-spots” for gang recruitment.

The increasing use of local schools to recruit new members is of concern and could increase violence in schools as youths are initiated into gangs and see rival gang members at their school on a daily basis. In addition to recruitment, the process wherein gangs maintain and expand their territory often entails violence such as drive-by shootings and gang-related homicides.

In an effort to address the violent gang problem in the Los Angeles arena, the FBI’s Los Angeles Division, in conjunction with its various federal, state, and local partners, realized early on the need to attack the problem as a unified force. In the wake of the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the FBI formed the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Crime (LAMTFVC), a nationally known Safe Streets Task Force. The mission of the LAMTFVC is to identify and target for prosecution the most criminally active and violent individuals and enterprises impacting the greater Los Angeles area.

Currently, there are seven separate Safe Streets Task Forces composed of agents and officers from 16 local, state, and federal agencies operating within the Los Angeles Division. These task forces bring significant resources to bear upon the gang problem within the Los Angeles area.

Since 2004, the FBI in the Los Angeles Field Office has been a participating member of the MS-13 National Gang Task Force. This task force consists of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and targets the emerging threat posed by MS-13 nationwide.

To address the threat posed by gangs on a local, regional, national, and even international level, the FBI has established a National Gang Strategy to identify the gangs posing the greatest danger to American communities. Targeting gangs identified within the National Gang Strategy, the FBI is utilizing the same statutes and investigative techniques that have been traditionally used against organized crime groups, such as Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) and Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering prosecutions. Some of the gangs being addressed under the National Gang Strategy in the Los Angeles area are the Bloods, the Crips, MS-13, 18th Street, and the Mexican Mafia (EME).

The FBI has played a leading role in addressing the gang problem nationwide. In response to the growing threat from gangs, the FBI has raised the priority of gang intelligence and strengthened investigative efforts by increasing the number of agents assigned to Safe Streets Task Forces. Additionally, the FBI has established a National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) to coordinate and share intelligence regarding the activities of violent gangs.

The NGIC enables the FBI and its local, state, and federal partners to centralize and coordinate the national collection of intelligence on gangs in the United States and then analyze, share, and disseminate this intelligence with law enforcement authorities throughout the country. The NGIC provides local, state, and federal investigators and intelligence analysts the opportunity and mechanism to share their collective information and intelligence on gangs.

This enables gang investigators and analysts to identify links between gangs and gang investigations, to further identify gangs and gang members, to learn the full scope of their criminal activities and enterprises, to determine which gangs pose the greatest threat to the United States, to identify trends in gang activity and migration, and to guide them in coordinating their investigations and prosecutions to disrupt and dismantle gangs. The NGIC has become an essential part of the FBI’s effort to combat and dismantle gangs, and will enhance the existing liaison and coordination efforts of federal, state and local agencies.

In addition to the NGIC, the Department of Justice has created a new national gang task force, called the National Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center (GangTECC). GangTECC is led by the Department’s Criminal Division, and is comprised of representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Bureau of Prisons, Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security, among others.

The center coordinates overlapping investigations, ensures that tactical and strategic intelligence is shared between law enforcement agencies, and serves as a central coordinating center for multi-jurisdictional gang investigations involving federal law enforcement agencies. GangTECC works hand-in-hand with the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), described above.

Most recently the attorney general unveiled on February 15 his plan to combat gangs in America. One aspect of that plan includes a comprehensive anti-gang initiative implemented in Los Angeles and five other sites across the country. Each site is receiving $ 2.5 million in state and local grants to incorporate prevention, enforcement, and re-entry efforts to address gang membership and gang violence at every stage.

With respect to our immediate area of responsibility, the Los Angeles Division of the FBI aggressively targets a wide range of criminal street gangs, including the Bloods and Crips, MS-13 and 18th Street, and the Mexican Mafia. The gangs targeted by the Los Angeles FBI have gained notoriety for their extreme level of violence, their flexibility, their high-level of organization, and their willingness to participate in a wide variety of criminal activities. Although the level of sophistication in their criminal activities may vary, these gangs remain consistently violent.

Gangs in Los Angeles are often divided into subsets, or cliques, usually defined by neighborhood boundaries. Each clique has a local leader referred to as a “shot-caller” who is responsible for coordinating the criminal activities of the clique as well as issuing sanctions for violations of the gang’s code. These gangs are primarily engaged in retail drug trafficking, specifically involving powder cocaine, rock cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana. These gangs are also involved in a variety of other types of criminal activity, including murder, assault, extortion, robbery and, for the Hispanic gangs, alien smuggling.

Furthermore, the Mexican Mafia, a powerful gang based largely in the state and federal prison system, is coordinating the criminal activities of certain cliques in the Los Angeles area. Moreover, the migration of gang members from Los Angeles to other regions of the United States has led to a rapid proliferation of these gangs in many smaller suburban and rural areas not accustomed to gang activity and its related crimes.

One very recent example of the steps being taken by the Los Angeles Division of the FBI to combat gang violence is the indictment of 18 members and associates of the 18th Street gang and the Mexican Mafia on racketeering, narcotics, and firearms charges, which was unsealed on September 12. In conjunction with the unsealing of this indictment, the task force executed 15 search and arrest warrants upon individuals charged in the indictment throughout the Los Angeles area. In fact, federal search and arrest warrants were executed at two residences associated with a “shot caller” of this organization within blocks of the location where we sit today.

As I stated earlier, the influence Los Angeles gangs wield has national and international implications. As such, the FBI has endeavored to foster partnerships locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally in order to combat this problem. FBI Los Angeles has been working directly and indirectly with our international law enforcement partners in Mexico and Central America to develop and execute strategies to disrupt and dismantle gang enterprises. It is only through coordinated and cooperative efforts that we will prevail in this mission.

I would like to note the significant contributions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Corrections, and the Los Angeles County Probation Department in the effort to combat violent gangs. The continued collaborative efforts of these and other agencies are the key to combating gang violence in the Los Angeles area.

Although I have spent considerable time discussing the significance of gang violence and gang influence in Los Angeles, as well as the efforts law enforcement has taken to combat this problem, I would be remiss if I did not suggest that more could be done. If we are going to win this battle, we need to be more proactive in preventing our youth from engaging in gang activity, and rehabilitating those who choose to leave. I would like to suggest a three pronged approach to achieving this goal—prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation.

Prevention: First and foremost we must prevent future generations of youth from falling into the entrapments of gang culture. As law enforcement officers we must work closely with community, schools, and churches to find ways to dissuade our youth from joining gangs. We must show them gangs are not a glamorous or attractive lifestyle and definitely not an educational or vocational alternative. There are many gang-prevention programs out there and we need to strengthen these as much as we can.

Intervention: We must work together—local, state, federal, and international law enforcement—to identify and target the most violent gangs, and then we must focus on disrupting their activities and dismantling their infrastructure. We need to communicate with each other and share ideas, best practices, and establish a common methodology for combating these groups.

Rehabilitation: We must ensure there are programs in place to rehabilitate those who seek to change their ways. There are many good programs out there. We, as law enforcement, need to work with these groups to ensure a successful and enduring change in these individuals.

Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to come before you today and share the work the FBI is doing to address the problem posed by violent gangs in the Los Angeles area. The FBI will continue its efforts, and we will keep this subcommittee informed of our progress in protecting this nation’s citizens against gangs and other criminal enterprises, particularly those with national and international implications. Mr. Chairman and Congresswoman Watson, thank you for your time and your continued support of the FBI’s efforts to combat gangs. I am happy to answer any questions.

 
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