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Rival Gangs Doing Business Together in L.A.

Carlos Avilés

La Opinión

LOS ANGELES -- Some neighborhoods in Southern California are experiencing a kind of truce between rival gangs that used to fight each other.

The decrease in gang violence in recent years has led some experts to theorize that gangs are now working together.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Los Angeles told La Opinión that although they are not investigating a particular case of collaboration between rival gangs, they are aware of a trend in which gangs of different ethnicities are working together.

“We know Latino gangs are working with African-American gangs to get drugs or arms, and we are already doing intelligence work,” said Robert Clark, special agent with the FBI's Criminal Division. "It's a trend we are seeing among different groups. And I think if they see an opportunity to collaborate across these barriers, they’re going to take it," he added.

Although the LAPD media department said they had not heard of gangs working together, Deputy Chief Michael Moore told La Opinión that they have started to see a “blend” among rival gangs.

"I’m not surprised. The purpose of gangs is to make money," he said. "And although it’s something we hadn’t seen before, I can tell you that we’re aware of it.”

County and federal attorneys have yet to take legal action against these groups, and local police authorities are not investigating any cases related to collaboration between gangs. But the phenomenon is already taking place on the streets of Los Angeles, according to one gang expert.

Robert Lyons, a detective who has worked for years in the gang division of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and who did not return calls from La Opinión before the close of business, told the Wall Street Journal that rival gangs like the Bloods and the Crips in South Central Los Angeles had joined together in criminal enterprises.

"They were talking to each other. There were hugs and handshakes. It was incredible," said Lyons. "Now, instead of having 200 arch enemies fighting against another 200, you have 400 working together against law enforcement agents," he said.

However, Aquil Basheer, a renowned expert who trains gang interventionists at the organization Maximum Force Enterprise, indicated that this phenomenon is not occurring in some gangs in Los Angeles.

"It seems like they are trying to create a monster so they can get more resources to suppress it," he said. "And although that’s needed, there is no proof that the gangs are uniting. I think they’re forgetting that the point is to get resources to prevent young people from getting into that life," he added.

Recently, several members of the Latino gang Hawaiian Gardens were accused of hate crimes against African Americans in what was considered the largest operation ever conducted by local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Authorities have targeted individual gangs in their recent operations; law enforcement has never gone after two gangs that were considered to be rivals.

There are an estimated 41,000 gang members in the city according to the LAPD, and 85,000 in the county according to a report by the California Gang Outreach Committee. Given the number of gang members in the Los Angeles area, this phenomenon seems very far from reality, according to Basheer.

The gang problem has long been a headache for Los Angeles authorities. In the last few years, they have declared an open war on gangs, with huge operations deploying local and state agents, legal restrictions, and efforts in prevention and intervention by the city.

Authorities say these actions have contributed to a historic decline in gang-related crime, which in 2009 was 11 percent lower than the previous year, and 33 percent lower than in 2002, according to the LAPD.

For Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Urban Policy Roundtable, cooperation between rival gangs can occur only at the level of mafia-style organized crime, as was the case between Jews and Italians during Prohibition in the 1930s.

"Rival gangs are still killing each other, at least those small gangs that fight over graffiti or turf," he said. "But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that maybe they’re not going to work together, but at least they’re not going to work against each other,” he added.

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