July 12, 2008 in Nation/World

L.A. cracking down on Catalina Island gang

Richard Winton Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is cracking down on what officials describe as a small but disturbing gang problem on Santa Catalina Island, a favorite tourist resort off the Southern California coast.

Early in July, sheriff’s deputies assisted probation officers in a sweep across this watery outpost, making five arrests. Most were members of the Brown Pride Locos.

“Catalina is a very safe place. But there is a gang issue here,” said Lt. Ed Cook, who is based on the island. “They aren’t doing drive-by shooting or walk-by shootings. But gang members are jumped into the gang and they are tagging, committing burglaries and other crimes.”

Cook said there were only about 30 gang members on the island.

But a chief concern among deputies was when some of them were seen with more hard-core gangsters, believed to be members of the mainland gang Florencia 13, Cook said.

Bob Kennedy, mayor of Avalon, the island’s lone city, acknowledges that some teens on the island heckle tourists, smoke marijuana and do some tagging. But he worries that overzealous policing – and the gang label – could empty the daily ferries that bring as many as 15,000 visitors to the island on summer weekends.

“I know that we have some misguided youth that think it’s cute to spray paint skateboard signs in the skateboard park and do a little vandalism in the bathrooms,” said Kennedy, a scuba shop owner. “Do we want to get after that? Absolutely. Do we need 30 officers in flak jackets and machines guns to do that? I don’t think so.”

One thing deputies don’t have to worry about are drive-by shootings. Avalon is the only municipality in California that is able to regulate the number of vehicles on its streets. There is roughly a 10-year waiting list for permits to drive a vehicle, according to the island’s Web site.

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